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'Don't kill Downriver': Trenton residents rally against Moroun plans at McLouth site

Christine MacDonald
The Detroit News

Trenton — It's been four generations since Kirsten Brockmiller's great grandmother first moved to Trenton, making her home in a small farmhouse in the Downriver community. 

On Sunday, Brockmiller stood on the steps of Trenton City Hall to fight for what she and others in the small town are convinced will damage its future: an effort to the return the former McLouth Steel riverfront site to industrial use.

With homemade signs that read "No to the Rezone" and "Don't Kill Downriver," the crowd listened to speakers, including Brockmiller who said a mixed-use designation with retail and residential would bring more diverse jobs and a higher quality of life.

More than 150 residents gathered Sunday afternoon outside City Hall to urge the Trenton City Council to vote down a zoning change that would reclassify the former McLouth property as a "waterfront industrial district" for large-scale or specialized industrial operations. The property currently is owned by a subsidiary of the Moroun family's Crown Enterprises Inc. real-estate firm. 

Amy Chappelle and Misty Karn during a protest against a new zoning proposal to change the former McLouth Steel property to waterfront industrial in front of Trenton City Hall in Trenton, Michigan on August 2, 2020.

"The status quo leaves us in a comfort zone even if it doesn't work," Brockmiller said. "And this doesn't work."

The proposal has quickly garnered opposition in Trenton and the island community of Grosse Ile, where residents argue it would become a disruptive transportation hub and environmental danger. 

City officials have said the changes are part of a larger four-year-long effort to update the city's zoning ordinance and would affect numerous other properties in the city. And Crown would need approval for any redevelopment plans. 

McLouth Steel, founded in Detroit in 1934, closed in 1995 after filing for bankruptcy.

Redevelopment plans for the site never came together, including a failed proposal in 2006 for a residential and commercial development. That's how part of the site was designated mixed-use, according to city administrator Scott Church.

The state, county and city all passed on opportunities to buy the property after Wayne County foreclosed on it in 2017 for $3.7 million. In 2018, Ambassador Bridge mogul Manuel "Matty" Moroun's Crown Enterprises purchased it from the Wayne County Land Bank for $4 million. (Moroun died in July). 

Crown’s president, Michael Samhat, in a statement said the company "is focused on the work of taking down the buildings on site, and cleanup" and doesn't have "any redevelopment currently planned for the site."

There is a 7 p.m. Monday city council meeting. The change is not on the agenda for the meeting.

Residents said Sunday they don't want another industrial complex on the site, including Terri Kinney who has lived near it for 33 years. She said when the plant was operating, they routinely had soot and silver dust cover their backyard, including lawn furniture. 

"We need to move forward and quit living in the past," Kinney said. "I don't want to see this happen. If it does, we are moving."

A few structures still stand on the former McLouth Steel property in Trenton.

Last year the property was designated an environmental Superfund site, making it eligible for federal cleanup funds for remediation, which will take several years. 

"I could be a destination for downriver," said Frank Craddock, 58, who attended the Sunday rally. 

He grew up so close to the site he remembers waking up to the sound of the McLouth's furnaces kicking on in the early morning hours. 

"Why tear down one eyesore just to put another one up," Craddock said. 

More than 3,300 people have signed an online petition against the zoning.

"We will not get a second chance to stop it," Brockmiller said. 

Staff writer Jordyn Grzelewski contributed to this report.