New Butzel Playfield, new Marcus Garvey Academy on docket for improvement in Villages
Housing affordability also key to future plans
More than $5 million in investments will go toward an improved Butzel Playfield, a more attractive streetscape along Kercheval Avenue, additional affordable housing options, and more neighborhood rehabilitation in the Villages neighborhoods are coming in the near future, City of Detroit planning officials announced Thursday night.
As part of the Strategic Neighborhood Fund targeting 10 areas across Detroit, the City of Detroit Planning and Development Department will make resident-suggested improvements to raise the quality of life for existing residents while attracting new ones. For Islandview, East Village, West Village Indian Village, Gold Coast and surrounding areas, the department collected more than 1,800 comments across seven community meetings over 18 months.
Thursday’s meeting culminated in a rollout of plans for parks, streetscapes, greenways, housing and new resources for residents, spanning from St. Jean to Mt. Elliott on the north and south and Mack to Jefferson on the east and west.
“All of the projects are going to lift up in the same place so that all of our dollars work together at once,” says Esther Yang, design director for the East region in the Planning Department.
Among the more notable changes is a proposal to revamp the underutilized land around Marcus Garvey Academy. The proposal would keep the school at the corner of Van Dyke and East Vernor, but also build a new building with 54 units of affordable housing above it. The City of Detroit and Detroit Public Schools Community District are in talks about bringing the project to life.
The eight-acre Butzel Playfield — “a community center that does not have as much prominence as it should,” Yang says — is slated to become the centerpiece of the area, with new entrances, repairs coming to recreation areas, improved landscaping, expanded outdoor activities and playscapes for all ages. Starting in 2019, the City is looking to hire a landscape architect specifically for Butzel with the scheduled improvements coming later that year.
Kercheval Avenue will be reconfigured to give pedestrians more walking space and to reduce speeding traffic along the thoroughfare, as well as give more consideration to cyclists and other non-motorized travelers. More retail is also planned along Kercheval with affordable and market-rate housing units above first-floor stores and offices.
"All of the projects are going to lift up in the same place so that all of our dollars work together at once."
Safer pedestrian crossings and efforts to slow down traffic — including three areas around Butzel — are being explored at Vernor and Baldwin, Townsend and Butzel, Kercheval and Butzel, Van Dyke and Agnes and Van Dyke and East Lafayette.
Residents over the last year and a half voiced their concern about demolition in the neighborhood, saying they preferred seeing homes rehabilitated rather than torn down. There are more than 300 empty lots in the blocks immediately surrounding Butzel.
In response, the City will issue an RFP this summer to seek a developer to rehab publicly owned homes and convert them to affordable housing. “People want us to save the houses that are still here,” says Jason Friedman of the city’s housing department, who noted that the area around Butzel is where the City owns the largest cluster of homes in Detroit.
Friedman noted that rental prices, particularly in West Village, are going up. “The average 1,300-square-foot home has gone from $750 a month to $1,400 a month. We want to be able to come in and be able to preserve that affordability.”
A proposed idea heavily reliant on the City acquiring vacant lots and other land is the long-discussed Beltline Greenway, which would connect Gratiot Avenue to the riverfront. Another idea reliant on market change is adding grocery stores and drug stores to the neighborhood; a study shows that the neighborhood can support 277,000 square feet of grocery and drug retail, but the City has not pursued any developer for the area.
The City will continue to hold community meetings for further discussion and feedback. Two immediate meetings will be held June 28 and July 17; times and locations will be announced prior to the date.