Homeowners slam city for “shady” business development

An article written in the AMERICAN ARAB NEWS,  by Hassan Khalifel on 9/22/2016:

DEARBORN HEIGHTS………..Following the rezoning of a residential block on Ford Road between Inkster and N. John Daly to a commercial-residential area, homeowners living on Doxtator, a street behind the re-designated properties, say they oppose the redevelopment because the city carried it out illegally.

In March, Mohamed Sobh, the city’s building and engineering director, said the residential area will be converted into a central commercial zone, allowing a mixture of residential and commercial properties to be built. He added the commission will limit the types of business that could be erected there.

Sameeh Kawar, a surgeon living in a multi-million-dollar mansion on Doxtator Street, regarded as one of the richest streets in Dearborn Heights, said most of his neighbors are very upset that businesses are being built right behind their backyards, affecting their homes’ values.

What is troubling them is that the Planning Commission, which handles rezoning and site plans, has not notified the residents of the development, he said.  The commission is required by law to mail letters to nearby residents after a rezoning has been considered, giving homeowners the opportunity to ask questions, voice concerns or object to a project before it is voted on in a City Council meeting.  Kawar said his neighbors have considered taking action against the city.

He said residents are concerned that truck traffic, pollution, noise and rats from the shops will impact their neighborhood. He added that a boost in activity could increase crime on the wealthy street and that he has a pool in his backyard, which his family will not be able to use because of privacy concerns.  However, most concerning to Kawar and his neighbors is that almost “overnight” and without notice, the city approved the rezoning, then real estate agents began buying the modest homes facing Ford Road for a cheap price and sold them to private developers for almost $1 million.  He said the residents also fear the city is making deals under the table with private developers to expedite the development process.

Construction to build these businesses has already begun.  “There’s something wrong here — something…playing in the dark,” Kawar added.

Imad Sabbagh, Kawar’s neighbor, said that while he defends the real estate agents’ rights to sell homes as part of their business, he wished he could vote against the rezoning.  This is not the first time Dearborn Heights’ residents were unable to protest a project in their town, he said.

In previous years, Sabbagh received a notice that a gas station would be built near his business. He attempted to object to it at a City Council meeting, in front of the mayor.  “They said this is what they proposed and this is what they’re gonna get,” Sabbagh said. “We went and spoke our mind and we ended up saying, ‘they’re bigger than us; they’re going to do it whether we like it or not.’ And they went ahead and did it.”

He added that he noticed the block was rezoned about four or five years ago, way before it was explicit, when he began seeing commercial trucks parked in the driveways of the houses on Ford Road.  Parking commercial trucks at residential homes is against Dearborn Heights ordinances.

Gus Mareskas, a longtime resident of Doxtator Street, said he is infuriated that his city would not consult taxpayers of a major development that will directly affect their living conditions.  “Somebody is making big dough,” he said. “Why rezone the area without asking anybody?”

Dearborn Heights Councilman Dave Abdallah, a real estate agent, said while the rezoning went into effect prior to his election, redevelopment was considered due to safety concerns. Cars backing out of the driveways leading to Ford Road could cause accidents with oncoming traffic.  For that reason, he said the city decided a mixed commercial designation was a “much more appropriate use” of the block.

As for the unusually high sale price of the homes, Abdallah said prior to the rezoning, the homes were on the market for an average of $200,000. After the rezoning, the prices almost quadrupled due, along with high demand, to great interest in opening businesses in a new strip mall and concentrated communities.  Dearborn Heights’ Mayor Dan Paletko told The AANews there was no attempt from the city to force the project on unaware residents. He said he has no evidence to believe the city is profiting from the project.  “It was natural and everybody expected at some point in time that the rest of Ford Road would turn into a commercial property,” he added.

Paletko also said developers of the new shops were required to file permits and submit building plans that had to be approved by the city’s planning commission.  He added that one of the developers had been critical of the city for imposing strict zoning codes.  At the time of the rezoning years ago, the mayor said a notification would have been placed in a local paper.  Mareskas said such notice would have been too inconspicuous and impractical for residents to read.

According to Paletko, when the developer requested a variance in the plan in recent months that placed a condition to build the shops on the back-end of the properties, so that parking spaces were located at the front end, similar to neighboring plazas, the Zoning Board of Appeals sent out a notice to residents regarding the change.  Paletko said the city is working on getting permission to limit access to Doxtator Street for the residents’ protection.  He also said it’s his understanding that a wall or other barrier will separate the neighborhood from the businesses.  In March, the mayor said he hoped to see the area become a downtown Dearborn Heights.

We have ordinances in our city, books of them.  The ordinance people are in the midst of doing “sweeps” to get uniformity and basic ordinances followed.  If ordinances are questioned by the residents, anything other than the clean up basics, the complaints are avoided.  Even after the sweeps, some people realized the ordinance dept. was not equal in their efforts throughout the neighborhoods.

Complaints featured in the past, like a business offering/performing services not allowed, expired licenses, or homes that have been purchased and turned into boarding homes that are not allowed in the city, or the residents of these homes involved with illegal or dangerous activities.  I have seen first hand how the Ordinance Dept. avoids ticketing or even discussing those complaints.  Good luck to the people on Doxtator dealing with decisions made by Mr. Sobh, ordinance representatives. or the administration.


3 thoughts on “Homeowners slam city for “shady” business development”

  1. I have to take exception to your comment about the Ordinance Dept not responding to problems with residents involved in “illegal or dangerous” activities. Isn’t that what the police do? The ordinance officers aren’t armed and they don’t have the authority to arrest people. Do you expect them to stop a drug dealer by putting a ticket on the door? Should they be trying to stop robberies and murders?

    I usually agree with the things you write here, but sometimes you need to stop and check the facts about what can be accomplished by the number of employees in any dept in the number of hours available to them. From what I see, basic clean-up (rats, trash, blight, etc) is a major problem and the dept’s efforts are thwarted by residents who often fail to comply even after being ticketed. That means multiple contacts have to be made. A lot of time must also be spent in court with residents and their attorneys fighting the tickets. We have no idea of the volume of work which must be handled by the dept (or any dept for that matter) so maybe we ought to view our expectations through that prism.

    Maybe getting a handle on all of the functions any dept performs (not just the functions we see from our side of the counter) would help us understand what realistic expectations we should have. That same understanding could also help us make better informed suggestions for improvement in city hall and allow us to make constructive criticisms instead of just tilting at windmills.


  2. First of all, Ihad a conversation with Dave Abdallah quite some time ago and he told me of the prices people were getting for their houses in this area. There was nothing cheap about it. As to the city not notifying the residents, I’m not surprised. From the mayor on down – including most of the city council – they don’t give a damn about our opinions. Time and time again we’ve gone to city council and asked for different things and they just sit there – looking at us. I’ve NEVER gotten one thing I’ve asked them for; no explanation. We’ve had to put up with one person on the city council in particular, badmouthing us when we do show up. His condescending attitude toward the residents – in my opinion – is reason for his dismissal. The ONLY way we can change that is by voting out the mayor and most of the city council. Since the Arab-American community seems to be taking over the city, they need to have qualified candidates step up to replace these people. NOTHING will be done until that happens.


  3. Mr Sobh marches to his own drummer. I grew up on Doxtator, in the home that backs up to the Ram’s Horn. They built a nice 8 foot high brick wall, with a 1 foot ledge, and the riff raft was kept out. A shorter wall will not do. We added the broken glass etc on top of the wall.

    At one time, a developer wanted to convert the vacant lot by White Castle into apt buildings. Almost snuck it through, but neighbors rallied and stopped it at various council meetings, some very heated. It was defeated due to insufficient parking.

    If you don’t confront Sobh, get in his face, he will ignore you and walk all over you.

    Much depends on the type of business to be built off of Ford rd. The Ram’s Horn is 24 hours, but in all the years my family lived there, (54), it was never a problem. Once in awhile a little blood on top of the wall, but usually not a problem.

    I would visit the city planner, insist on being included in in the overall plans, get an overview of the project. Rest assured they are already done and probably contracted out, so don’t fall for the “they are not formalized yet” .

    Were profits made on those lots? You bet. One of my friends sold his for $145k. (corner of Amboy and Ford). I bet he wished he had waited.

    Ask for a planning meeting to discuss the issue. All the city can do is ignore the request, hoping you will go away…..Mr Sobh may even surprise folk, an show you the plans without a fuss……

    Miracles do happen once in awhile……


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