'I haven’t had my day in court': Packard Plant's resident leaves after eviction

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

Detroit — The stay for a man well-known for living among the apocalyptic ruins of the former Packard Plant has come to an end.

Allan Hill, 74, an auto body worker, says he was made aware of his pending eviction through a building closure notice from the city in August. It informed him that he’d have to move from the warehouse on East Palmer where he’s famously lived and worked for 15 years. He was believed to be the sole legal resident of the former plant.

As a result, he says he’s been given limited time and access to retrieve items he’s collected over the years, including tools, vehicles, boats and machinery. He also feels he hasn’t been given proper notice.

“I haven’t had my day in court,” said Hill, standing Tuesday outside the graffitied warehouse he’s called home. 

According to city tax records, the 50,000-square-foot property belongs to 6540 E. Palmer LLC, which purchased the building from Fat Yu Chan of Grosse Ile for $170,000 in 2015. Hill said he had agreements with Chan and the current owner to live in the property.

The building’s owner, Greg Meyer, would not comment when reached by phone on Tuesday.

Dave Bell, director of the city’s Building Safety Engineering and Environmental Department, said in an email to The Detroit News on Tuesday that his department closed the unlicensed business and issued citations to the property owner for “various violations of property maintenance codes, including health and safety issues due to an extreme amount of material and waste located around the building.”

“The owner explained he was not aware of the tenant’s actions, which he informed us were in violation of the lease,” Bell wrote. “The owner then cooperated to bring the property into compliance. BSEED is continuing to work with the owner to ensure continuous compliance with all applicable codes and ordinances, however, the tenancy issue is solely between the owner and the tenant.”

Hill has served as an unofficial spokesman for the Packard Plant campus and has been featured in numerous articles and documentaries about the former industrial site and the area’s decline. When interviewed by The Detroit News in 2013, Hill was working on a prototype of cargo bicycles he had plans to market as Packard Bicycles. He also gave tours to tourists at the Packard Plant.

Allan Hill walks between the buildings of the Packard Plant on Bellevue St. in Detroit, October 1, 2019. Hill has been told to vacate the warehouse inside the plant that he has used as a residence and for storage for 15 years.

“He’s kinda been the guy that kept it going when nobody else was interested in it,” said Hill’s attorney, James Lumley. “He kinda adopted this place years and years ago, and probably through a lot of his efforts, it’s still here. … In the short run, I think they need to try to show a little bit of compassion for somebody what you would call the local resident.”

Lumley said Hill didn’t keep the property neat and that is probably what prompted the city to put pressure on the property owner.

A large orange building closure notice dated Aug. 9 had a handwritten note that the property also contained a junkyard. Since the notice was posted, piles of salvageable and unsalvageable items have been removed from the property.

“Everybody might not agree with his nature of lifestyle, but it’s been his home,” Lumley said.

Dressed in blue pants and a blue T-shirt and wearing a red "Chaplain" hat, the white-bearded Hill was ready to retrieve items from the warehouse on Tuesday. He expected the building’s owner to arrive, but as of the afternoon, no one had shown up. Hill did retrieve a red pickup parked nearby carrying two dirty mattresses and a chair.

While most of the grounds outside the property had been cleaned up, three vehicles were parked inside in various stages of disrepair, including a minivan missing a window and a car missing a rear wheel that was abandoned by its previous owner. Hill once had plans to fix each vehicle. 

Hill’s departure comes as another property owner in the area, Peruvian businessman Fernando Palazuelo and his business Arte Express Detroit, work to clean up the sprawling Packard Plant site, which includes multiple buildings, one of which neighbors the warehouse where Hill lived. A groundskeeper was seen Tuesday cleaning debris on a road that runs between the two buildings.  

Allan Hill walks between the buildings of the Packard Plant on Bellevue St. in Detroit, October 1, 2019. Hill has been told to vacate the warehouse inside the plant that he has used as a residence and for storage for 15 years.

A for-lease sign hangs on the side of the warehouse and has been there for about two years, Hill said. An online listing for the property touts the building as having great natural light and the potential as a grow operation, art studio, recreational center or for warehousing.

Hill said he began living in the warehouse about 15 years ago after plans fell through to purchase a house on the city’s east side. He said he was working with Chan’s engineer and construction business when he offered to let him live there. 

“It’s been a real blessing, you know,” Hill said. “I get to meet people from around the world. … It helped me find myself. I had a suburban attitude; don’t go to Detroit. … Then I come to a realization we’re all the same. Not everyone had access to opportunity. That brought me off my high horse.”

Hill said that over the years, he would fix vehicles in the warehouse. It also became a donation hub with people dropping off items, such as wheelchairs and crutches, and others stopping by for things they needed.

Hill said he still lives in Detroit and is staying in a trailer. He says he hopes to work with youth, teaching them skills such as welding or how to make repairs to lawnmowers and bicycles.

“It would be nice to leave here, but I don’t want to leave getting kicked in the rear at the same time,” he said. “I’ve got to deal with taking all the stuff I’ve got in there.”


Twitter: @CWilliams_DN