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Ambassador Bridge owners want more city streets, this time near Detroit's oldest church

Sep 23, 2017

A historic Catholic church in southwest Detroit has become the latest focal point in neighborhood battles between the company that owns the Ambassador Bridge, and the community that sits in the bridge’s shadow.

The Detroit International Bridge Company wants to take over portions of more city streets as part of its expanding footprint.

Their petition, now before the Detroit City Council, is asking the city to “vacate” several public streets and alleyways for industrial, commercial or transportation use. That includes a stretch of St. Anne Street that fronts the historic church of the same name.

Residents of the Hubbard Richard neighborhood say they weren’t notified about that, and were surprised to learn about the request just last week. Many oppose the plan.

Lifelong resident Jessica Trevino says companies owned by the Moroun family, who also own the Ambassador Bridge, already own much of the property surrounding the church and throughout the neighborhood.

Trevino says it appears the Bridge Company wants to connect their truck plaza with another nearby property they own. But she and other residents fear this is just the start of another push to expand the bridge’s footprint.

“They’ll ask for this street first, and then they’ll keep pecking away until they get everything that they want, and we just suffer, again,” Trevino said.

Residents fear the street closures could further damage their neighborhood, which is already burdened by heavy truck traffic and other impacts of the busy international border crossing. They also worry about street closures limiting access for emergency vehicles, and local businesses being cut off from main traffic routes.

But the plan already has some important support. Detroit city departments have already indicated approval. And to the surprise of many St. Anne’s parishioners, so has the Detroit Archdiocese.

“There’s been a mutually beneficial relationship for many years between the Archdiocese and the Moroun organization,” Michael McInerney, director of properties for the Archdiocese, told the Detroit City Council last week.

McInerney said the Archdiocese believes the Bridge Company’s plans address public safety concerns, and could actually benefit St. Anne’s. “We’re comfortable that there’s no danger to church properties,” he said.

Longtime neighborhood resident Deb Sumner calls that “disappointing.” She says the church is a cornerstone of the community, and should support its efforts to limit the bridge’s consistently expanding footprint.

“We want to help save the neighborhood and the people, because we’re the parishioners of this church,” Sumner said. “So what in the world would you do if you lose all your people and housing? Who’s going to come to the church?”  

Sumner says the community will keep pushing City Council to reject the plan. Some residents also gathered outside St. Anne's for a small silent protest Friday evening, as the world-renowned Sistine Chapel Choir performed for a crowd inside.

A City Council committee tabled the Bridge Company’s petition after hearing testimony last week. They’re expected to take it up again next month.