The Danger (re)Zone… the unsellable houses of Bell Street

Every once in a while someone I don’t know hands me something and asks me to publish it on this site. Until today, however, I don’t think that I’ve actually ever done it. I’ve never taken something that I’ve found scrawled on a piece of paper and stuck in my mailbox, and posted it. An article was left on my doorstep this morning, however, has made me reconsider my “thanks but no thanks” policy. The unsolicited article I received today, which you can read below, was not only coherent and well thought out, but it seemed to me like something that people in Ypsilanti should really know about. So, here it is… the story of a woman on Bell Street who just discovered that, due to recent rezoning, she may not be able to sell her home, which you can see here, just to the left of the former Vistion plant’s parking lot.

Snyder-home2

This is the story of an Ypsilanti neighborhood that’s been around since 1837. This small strip of older homes on Bell Street sits on the edge of the city’s former landfill, nestled against a wooded area near Huron Street and Spring Street.

Over the years, the landfill contamination has spread, seeping closer to these neighborhood homes — so close, in fact, that the city officials sent letters to Bell Street residents in 2013 letting them know about the pollution’s migration.

CityLetter2013b

[The 2013 letter from the city of Ypsilanti included a picture showing the boundaries of the former landfill site. The circles are the places they took contamination samples.]

At the time, Bell Street homeowner Erin Snyder wasn’t overly worried. “I was concerned, yes, but none of the [polluted] samples were taken from my property,” she says. “Since we have municipal water services, and fill dirt was brought in to re-grade my property during building—and later, to expand my yard area—I figured my risk was probably minimal.”

Snyder tucked the letter and the information away until two years later, when she got yet another letter from the city in 2015.

This time, in response to the pollution, the city had rezoned Snyder’s home and a handful of others on the street to “PMD” (Production, Manufacturing, Distribution). Again, Snyder thought it wasn’t a huge deal.

That is, until she went to put her home on the market last week.

“As my realtor was pulling together information to prepare the listing, she noted the PMD zoning designation and became concerned,” Snyder says. After speaking with a member of in Ypsi’s Planning and Development Department (which handles zoning), she was told that if the home was destroyed, it could not be rebuilt.

In other words, if the home is damaged or burned or anything happens to it, that’s it. The owner can’t do anything about it. That investment? Gone for good.

Snyder was devastated. She wanted to sell, but why would anyone buy a home that, if damaged, could never be fixed? And even if she could find a potential buyer, Snyder says she soon discovered lending companies wouldn’t make it easy.

Snyder, who works in a title company, called a local loan officer and discovered that a potential buyer would have to get a letter from the city saying they could build a “non-conforming structure” in the neighborhood.

“While it may be possible for a potential buyer to get a conventional loan, the re-zoning has severely limited a buyer’s financing options,” Snyder says.

Desperate to figure out a solution that would enable her to sell her home, Snyder reached out to city planner Bonnie Wessler. They met in Wessler’s office in City Hall on May 6th to talk about the situation.

“Bonnie was sympathetic, she said my situation was a ‘tough one,’ but said there was nothing the city could do,” Snyder says. “[Bonnie] said the area was re-zoned in part because the surrounding area is largely commercial in nature, and in part due to environmental concerns stemming from the spreading contamination at the old city landfill.”

Snyder could apply for re-zoning, but the fee is steep: $1,000. And Wessler discouraged it, saying Snyder didn’t meet the criteria.

Snyder’s options were reduced to either finding a cash purchaser, or using the property as a rental. But any difficulties with getting a loan on the property couldn’t be resolved.

What Environmental Injustice Looks Like

Snyder is white, but the majority of her neighbors on Bell Street are lower-to-middle income minority residents. One house on Bell Street is even a Habitat for Humanity house.

Countless studies show that minorities are at a significantly greater risk for exposure to environmental hazards. An Associated Press analysis in 2005 showed that African Americans are 79 percent more likely than whites to live in neighborhoods where industrial pollution is suspected of posing the greatest health danger.

But the effects of pollution aren’t just related to health. “Many studies have found that as pollution increases, property values go down,” writes the author of a 2004 paper by the Global Development And Environment Institute at Tufts University.

No one wants to live in an area affected by pollution. But the city of Ypsilanti has made it difficult for the Bell Street residents not to. And, worse, the city has negated the largest investment — in some cases the only investment — these residents have made, in the form of their homes.

In sum, the city is punishing the residents for living in a toxic area, which was the city’s responsibility to begin with. The residents didn’t put the landfill there, after all.

Snyder says it’s worth noting that the entirety of Bell Street was not rezoned PMD.

“The northernmost parcels, which abut Spring and Harriet Streets, are zoned ‘Neighborhood Corridor.’ One of those parcels is property owned by the Ypsilanti Housing Commission. Property immediately to the west of Bell Street, which is directly to the north of the former city landfill parcel, is zoned ‘General Corridor.’” She says that both designations allow residential uses, although single-family residences are not included.

How and why the decision was made to zone specific parcels different ways wasn’t ever illuminated to Bell Street residents. The city’s 2015 rezoning letter wasn’t the beginning of a conversation. It wasn’t a proposal or a dialogue. In 2015, it was simply a decree.

And the price that Snyder and others on her street will pay is a steep one. She’ll continue to pay a mortgage on a structure she’ll probably never sell.

Financially, she says it’s a blow that will wound her, but she’s young enough that she can possibly absorb it. She has a decent job and other prospects, after all. She’s not so sure about her neighbors, though. She doubts they’ll be so lucky. And worse, they probably don’t even know the reality of their situation yet. They might not uncover it until they, like her, go to sell.

Currently, Snyder is waiting for a realtor to pull comps and tell her what her home could possibly list for. She’s been waiting for a few days now, which Snyder chocks up to the house “not being worth shit,” and the realtor dreading the conversation.

In the meantime, Snyder is investigating whether she has a fair housing case, and if she can pursue a Freedom of Information Act for documents that would tell her if the city knew about her pollution when they issued building permits for her home in 2004.

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44 Comments

  1. kjc
    Posted May 13, 2016 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    Terrible. I hope The Fair Housing Center can help her. They cared about the Section 8 discrimination in Ypsi Township when no one else gave a shit.

  2. EOS
    Posted May 13, 2016 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    So Erin built a new home adjacent to an old dump that collected waste prior to modern environmental standards, sandwiched between two industrial sites, and thought there would be no problem because she added a layer of fill dirt to regrade the property? Now that the city has finally taken action to prevent others from residing in a location contaminated with toxic chemicals, she is upset that she won’t be allowed to sell and endanger subsequent homeowners? Should she not have done her due diligence and investigated the prior use of adjacent land before she built? Did she not realize in 2004 that it was common knowledge that the adjacent landfill could pose future risk? Of course the City knew about the landfill in 2004 and she should have also.

  3. anonymous
    Posted May 13, 2016 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    Your empathy astounds me, EOS.

  4. Erin
    Posted May 13, 2016 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    EOS, the view from the top of your high horse must be so amazing. I hate to engage, but you don’t know a thing about me.

    In 2004 I had no idea that the property adjacent to the vacant land that I purchased was a former landfill, nor was it disclosed to me. Perhaps it was common knowledge to “everyone”, but I’m not originally from Ypsilanti. The former landfill site is far from obvious. Of course I realized that I was building in an area that was largely industrial, but didn’t expect contamination from the neighboring Ford property to be an issue as it’s separated from my property by a parking lot, a strip of vacant land, and a hill. It’s not so pretty to look at in the winter, but we all deal with stuff we don’t love. As a side note – I put myself through college, and work my ass off at multiple jobs in order to pay my mortgage and student loans. I wasn’t being opportunistic when I purchased property, I was trying to make a home for myself that was within my meager means.

    At that point in my life, I purchased land that I could afford, and had a modular home brought in. At the time that I built, everything that was a reasonable distance from work for me was out of my price range. I didn’t expect to get rich from my investment, and I’m not angry about the loss I’m taking on the property due to the burst real estate bubble – I bought when the market was high, and some investments are bad ones.

    What I am angry about is this – the city re-zoned the property which they presumably think isn’t fit for residential use, in order to make that use more difficult. They didn’t address the impact that this would have to families who have lived on that street for decades. The notification we recieved about re-zoning was basically an afterthought – “Hey, you’re zoned PMP now. Just thought you should know.” Yet property that is directly north of the former landfill is zoned “General Corridor”, which allows for multi-family residential use. If the contamination is such that people shouldn’t be exposed to it, it seems like ALL of the property next to it should be zoned such that it can’t be used for residential purposes. And, I don’t know, maybe a stronger warning about the contamination should have been given. If not, why is only some of the property on Bell Street zoned differently?

    From my perspective, the city decided to transfer the financial impact of the contamination to the property owners on Bell Street instead of dealing with it appropriately.

  5. M
    Posted May 13, 2016 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    Erin,

    Don’t let EOS get to you. This is what he does around here.

  6. kjc
    Posted May 13, 2016 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    yes. EOS doesn’t believe in individual misfortune. it’s always your fault unless it’s the govt’s fault. usually it’s the city of Ypsilanti’s fault, but not in this case cuz…

    Just cuz.

  7. Andrew Clock
    Posted May 13, 2016 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    Kind of scary when you think about all the neighborhoods adjacent to light industrial in Ypsilanti.

  8. EOS
    Posted May 13, 2016 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    Sorry Erin,

    If you decide to stay where you are at, and the property you own becomes contaminated by the adjacent dump, then you will be the individual who will be held liable for the clean-up costs on your property. It’s a shame that you didn’t investigate the history of adjacent property before you bought. I don’t know a thing about you other than what has been written here. I have no personal animosity against you and I’m not on any high horse. You made a personal investment that, in retrospect, turned out to be a poor decision. The city made a decision to reduce future liability. They couldn’t have rezoned your property without notifying you of the hearing and allowing you to state any objections that you might have had. Maybe ignoring the hearing was another poor decision on your part. The City has its hands full trying to clean up a number of other contaminated properties for which they have no resources to spend. I wouldn’t expect that they are going to bail you out.

  9. Erin
    Posted May 13, 2016 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    I did not recieve notice of a zoning hearing. It was suggested to me by the city planner that such a notice would have been mailed to me, but they have no way of knowing if I recieved it or not (turns out I didn’t). Nor did I ignore the hearing.

    Thanks for the advice, EOS. I’m not expecting a bailout, I’ll be just fine whatever happens, I’ll swallow whatever losses I have to and work more to make more money. I appreciate the concern. Your suggestion about searching the past history for every parcel adjacent to property being purchasing is a great idea. Prohibitively expensive, and not how any normal real estate transaction is done, but I agree that it would have been useful in this specific case.

    I’m more concerned about the other members of my neighborhood. The way the city dealt with this situation is unconscionable, and I’ll continue using my voice to bring as much light as I can to the situation.

  10. Lynne
    Posted May 13, 2016 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    Why is the property owner liable for the pollution caused by an old city dump? Shouldn’t the city be liable? I can appreciate the decision to rezone because of the pollution but the city should take the financial hit, not the homeowners. The city did the dumping and caused the pollution, non?

  11. kjc
    Posted May 13, 2016 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    Erin’s subtle beatdown of EOS is making my day. Sorry EOS.

  12. Umi Yurimoto
    Posted May 13, 2016 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    The people that live in that area probably never realized that was a dump since it was closed 40 +years ago that information was never disclosed upon purchase of the land back in the early 2000 s .out of site out of mind . Until the city realized there could be a possible issue and started testing. I hope somehow this issue can be resolved, when your option to move depends on selling your home this can be a swift blow to your future.

  13. jcp2
    Posted May 13, 2016 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    From a public health standpoint, I wouldn’t be surprised if that whole neighborhood becomes rezoned over time. I’m not even sure that searching the past history of every parcel might have changed the outcome. Our understanding of what is acceptable risk changes over time. It could be that thresholds for acceptable risk of landfill contamination have decreased over time as we have learned more about the contaminants. It could be that new sites or levels of contamination were discovered in the interim between surveys. It could be that insurance liability costs for certain risks have increased despite no physical change in environment circumstances.

    Erin, I agree that ideally, the burden should be on the creator of the contamination to mitigate the costs of the contamination; however, in the instances where the events play out over a prolonged period of time, the originator of the pollution are neither in existence anymore or if they are, not in a financial position to assist in this manner. Is there any existing recourse of action that would be helpful to you and your neighbors? If not, what might be helpful?

  14. Andrew
    Posted May 13, 2016 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    No-rebuild stipulations are common with re-zoning, along with the loss of sales flexibility (read: equity). Presumably, when government does this, it’s for the greater good of the community.

  15. James Engman
    Posted May 13, 2016 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    She’s also paying ever increasing property taxes on that inhospitably contaminated property so that the city can pay people to build housing… on their own inhospitably contaminated property! Interesting how that works.

  16. kjc
    Posted May 13, 2016 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    Injustice of all varieties is common. So what?

  17. EOS
    Posted May 13, 2016 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    What might be useful is to engage all your neighbors and work together to mitigate the damages. If everybody sold their property together, as one unified parcel, then they might attract a business wanting to relocate to a location near 94. The business would have to level all the homes and build from scratch. The cleanup necessary for an industrial facility would be far less extensive than for housing. If all the neighbors agreed, then I would lobby the city extensively to grant a 50 – 100 year tax abatement for any business to buy the property and build on the site. The city should be willing because they would no longer have any liability from the dump. The tax abatement would be incentive for a business to assume the extra cost of removing existing homes. You wouldn’t get the full value for your homes, but you would get something and you would no longer be held liable for any future contamination. Start with organizing the neighborhood.

  18. Dirtgrain
    Posted May 13, 2016 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    The zoning meeting plans are “on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.'”

  19. Demetrius
    Posted May 13, 2016 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    @ EOS

    So, let me see if I understand:

    Erin and her neighbors are to blame for unknowingly buying or building their homes near a toxic site.

    However …

    IF Erin decides to use her spare time becoming a community organizer, and
    IF she is able to convince all of her neighbors to agree to sell their properties together, and
    IF they can persuade the City to combine the individual lots into a single parcel, and
    IF they can get City Council to pass a tax abatement, and
    IF they can find a business that wants to build near I-94,
    they MIGHT be able to recover some undefined fraction of their original investments.

    Wow. This might a new low … even for you.

  20. Jcp2
    Posted May 13, 2016 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

    Is there an alternative?

  21. EOS
    Posted May 13, 2016 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    Dirtgrain,
    Proposed zoning changes are also published in the newspapers with information on the public hearings. You can also find relevant information on the web.

    Yes Demetrius,

    Individuals are responsible for the decisions they make. She has other options. She can live in her current house as long as she wants. She can rent her home to others and let them be exposed to the potential harm. Or she can stop paying her taxes or mortgage and let the bank or an auction relieve her of any future liability. There are plenty of new lows that can be considered as well.

    Buying a home is often the biggest investment an individual makes. Everybody should carefully consider a large number of parameters before choosing. Making sure that the home is not located near potential chemical contamination is very high on the list.

  22. Frosted Flakes
    Posted May 13, 2016 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

    As Andrew pointed out there is a lot of residential property near old light industrial areas and therefore we will likely, over time, see more Ypsilanti property owners caught in a similar dilemma as Erin and her neighbors. Keeping in mind that this probably is not going to prove to be an isolated incident–then what exactly should be the City’s response to this particular case? I wonder what Erin thinks would be fair response to this situation….Keeping it zoned residential would seem like a worthless and unethical proposition at this point.

  23. stupid hick
    Posted May 13, 2016 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

    Even if everyone who lives there knew from the start that there’s a polluted dump next door, so what? If Ypsilanti’s dump is now leaking pollution onto adjacent private property that is Ypsilanti’s problem to remediate, and its responsibility to make its victims whole.

  24. Dirtgrain
    Posted May 13, 2016 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

    EOS wrote the following: “Proposed zoning changes are also published in the newspapers with information on the public hearings. You can also find relevant information on the web.”

    My response (rhetorical): Can you be that obtuse?

  25. Jcp2
    Posted May 14, 2016 at 7:17 am | Permalink

    While EOS seems to present the unrealistic proposal that the neighborhood take care of it themselves with administrative support from Ypsilanti, isn’t demanding that Ypsilanti make the owners within the neighborhood whole essentially the same thing? It’s not like there’s a magical bag of money. Any funding needed will be raised from Ypsilanti taxpayers, and with the City being so small, it will literally be neighbors helping neighbors.

  26. Frosted Flakes
    Posted May 14, 2016 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    Who needs a magical bag of money when we have so many magical bags of tax free “empathy”?

    I suppose threats of litigation by the attorneys of non-profits backed by local media fueled outrage can help a few of the chosen ones….

  27. EOS
    Posted May 14, 2016 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    The knee jerk reaction is to have the city get a loan sufficient to buy everyone’s house at market value. Then they could level all the homes and find an investor willing to buy the land, clean up the mess, and build a business that will employ hundreds of residents. Oh snap, wasn’t that the water street plan? Jcp2 is correct. Should the result of a personal decision be paid for by increased taxes on everyone in the city? And if you set a precendent how many other properties will demand that they be included? There are enough brown fields in Ypsilanti to force the city into bankruptcy.

  28. stupid hick
    Posted May 14, 2016 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    Well, when you moved to Ypsilanti, you should have known the dump was a potential liability, that you, the tax payer, might be responsible for. It was your personal decision, now reap the consequences. You don’t expect the State of Michigan or feds to bail you out now, do you?

  29. Frosted Flakes
    Posted May 14, 2016 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    I wonder how much the grandfather clause concept should be applied in both directions—with the changing standards of what is/is not considered safe levels of toxicity for residential. It would be great to hear from people who have experience with these kinds of issue’s. I do wonder how this type of problem has been resolved in other cities.

  30. EOS
    Posted May 14, 2016 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    Well Stupid Hick, That’s one of the reasons why I made the decision not to live in an aging, landlocked community.

  31. stupid hick
    Posted May 14, 2016 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    EOS, yes, I understand you live in the township. When the dump next door to your fine estate begins to leak pollution on your property, I promise not to complain when you’re treated fairly by the township. And I will pray for you harder than I normally do.

  32. Frosted Flakes
    Posted May 14, 2016 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    I thought Erin said her property has not shown contamination. The key in my mind is that her property is not showing levels that would be considered unsafe to pre 2004 standards and that the cause of unacceptable toxicity was not from leaking over from the dump. I see this more as a responsible rezoning to deal with higher future standards in a preemptive way.

  33. EOS
    Posted May 14, 2016 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    Thanks for your prayers!

  34. anonymous
    Posted May 14, 2016 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    Perhaps the city could offer to buy the land and contribute toward the moving of the houses. We bought all of the Water Steet lots.

  35. EOS
    Posted May 14, 2016 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    This site is interesting, but I’m not sure how accurate. It shows 1 S. Huron (City Hall) as being the Township landfill and a superfund site.

    http://www.homefacts.com/environmentalhazards/superfunds/Michigan/Washtenaw-County/Ypsilanti.html

  36. facebook stalker
    Posted May 14, 2016 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    Rodney Nanney had the following to say:

    Actually many zoning ordinances include what I refer to in my work as the “mortgage clause.” It is a provision in the nonconforming regulations that allows for the alteration, improvement, and complete rebuilding of a nonconforming single-family dwelling if destroyed. Ypsi Twp and Superior Twp both have versions of that provision, and I make sure that it’s in every new or updated Zoning Ordinance I work on with a community. It’s actually quite pathetic that the city failed to provide for such a simple protection as part of their gold-plated $140,000 re-do of their master plan and zoning ordinance.

  37. Erin
    Posted May 14, 2016 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know what the right solution is – I’ve been focusing my energy on outrage instead of thinking about how the situation might realistically be resolved. Thanks jcp2, I didn’t even really realize it until I tried to come up with an answer for you. In an ideal, just world, the entity which causes an issue should be financially responsible for it. The city did own, and still does own, the former landfill property (that part which isn’t currently part of the I-94 exit ramp). While I realize the city is in a tough financial position, I don’t think this negates their responsibility.

    I do wonder how big of an issue the contamination is. I’m certainly no expert on the spread of environmental contamination, but it seems to me that the danger is limited to the contamination being spread by coming into contact with the water table. I’m presuming that the contaminated soil isn’t really problematic unless somebody goes digging around at the landfill site. So, while I’m not super excited about having polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon and heavy metal contamination in my ground water……we have municipal water services here. And (again, not an expert) my understanding is that water service lines are sealed, and also not generally in contact with the water table. So from my perspective, the spreading contamination seems not dissimilar from the Gelman dioxane plume – I don’t want to drink water from anybody’s well around here, but nobody around here has a well. So unless I’ve got something incorrect here (and I agree it’s entirely possible), I’m unsure about how large of a risk there actually is.

    My guess is that the city doesn’t really know the extent of the issue – and that they re-zoned the area as non-residential in order to quietly avoid having to spend additional funds that aren’t available in order to further examine the issue. Perhaps I’m wrong – I hope that I am.

    If I’m correct, and the health risks posed are minimal, then the city should correct their error and re-zone our neighborhood to a mixed-use district that allows residential use, but would still allow a production/manufacturing facility to be built and satisfy the city’s master plan vision for the neighborhood. Or at a minimum, they should issue people with nonconforming properties with a “permission to rebuild as-is” letter, so that financing properties like ours is actually reasonably possible. If I’m incorrect, and the health risks posed are substantial, then it seems to me that the city was grossly negligent in their response to the people at risk.

  38. EOS
    Posted May 15, 2016 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    Wow Erin. How long will it take you until you consult an expert who can explain the hazard to you? The city has no incentive to rezone your property unless there was a clear potential for danger. PAH’s cause cancer. Most are less dense than water, so every time your ground is saturated, they rise to the surface. At that point they can be vaporized. It’s not only a hazard in drinking water. It’s not OK as long as you don’t dig in the dirt, it is being released as a gas that can seep in to your home and increase your personal cancer risk. If the above drawings are correct, then it looks like there is an arm of the plume that is encroaching on your property. If there is a path of least resistance, it won’t be long until your house is directly above the cancer causing materials. I’m no expert. Get the data of the contaminants from the City and ask someone from U of M or Eastern to help you evaluate the risk. Please don’t assume that it is not problematic. I’m not trying to scare you. It’s possible the risk is minimal, but also possible that it is significant. Depends on the concentration and level of ground saturation.

  39. Demetrius
    Posted May 15, 2016 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    Shorter EOS: People who choose to live in aging, landlocked communities deserve whatever happens to them.

  40. EOS
    Posted May 15, 2016 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    Demetrius,
    An indication that you don’t have a valid response is when you twist the words that were written to say something that was never stated. What have you added to the conversation that is of any benefit to Erin?

  41. Peter Larson
    Posted May 15, 2016 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    From here, it doesn’t appear that Demetrius is wrong at all.

  42. Meta
    Posted September 15, 2016 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    “Ypsilanti considers moving residents facing lead, VOC pollution threat”

    Some residents in Ypsilanti’s Bell Kramer neighborhood have resided there for over 50 years, but their days in their longtime neighborhood could be numbered.

    The Ypsilanti City Council recently started discussions with staff about how to deal with groundwater contamination in and around the small neighborhood. It sits just north of Interstate 94, east of South Huron Street, and south of Spring Street.

    The relocation of 12 homeowners is among the options under consideration.

    That’s an issue to Erin Snyder, a resident who built in Bell Kramer in 2004. Nearly in tears, she told council she has shown the house 55 times but she can’t sell it. She said she is “furious” over the situation.

    “That’s my life. I have worked two to three jobs over the last 12 years to keep this damn house,” Snyder said. “My neighbors have been there for 50 years. To move them is almost criminal.”

    The area has largely been residential since the mid-1800s, but the city recently discovered pollution that includes lead, PNAs, VOCs and a high concentration of methane on a former landfill site to the neighborhood’s south.

    In 2014, the city rezoned it from residential to an industrial-commercial usage, and now residents who live there say they can’t sell their homes because banks won’t issue a mortgage in such zones.

    And even if banks would, there’s the issue of groundwater pollution. Although no one uses well water, people can still be exposed to groundwater when it rains heavily, when they garden, or in other situations. Several properties on higher ground in the neighborhood aren’t as threatened by the pollution.

    Among the options council discussed at its Sept. 6 meeting is buying other homes in a foreclosure auction and moving residents to those.

    Council only discussed the situation and didn’t take action, but staff was directed to explore relocation’s cost and process, as well as other solutions.

    Read more:
    http://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/index.ssf/2016/09/ypsilanti_to_consider_relocati.html#incart_2box_news_ann-arbor

  43. EOS
    Posted September 15, 2016 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    Erin,

    The city did not discover the contamination when DTE proposed to put solar panels there. It was discussed as the reason that they stopped using a well located near there for city water and changed to get all water from the City of Detroit system. YUCA may have more information regarding what they knew and when they knew it.

  44. Meta
    Posted April 27, 2018 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    Concentrate: “Ypsi neighborhood moves forward after reversal of zoning change that left homes virtually valueless”

    City officials have been working with residents of the Bell-Kramer neighborhood on Ypsilanti’s south side to reverse a zoning decision that inadvertently made homes uninsurable and unsellable.

    A dozen residential properties on Bell Road and Kramer Street were included in the area’s rezoning to industrial use due to their proximity to a former city-owned landfill. The rezoning established the houses as “non-conforming structures,” so residents were able to continue living in them, but they weren’t able to repair or rebuild the houses if they were damaged. The city amended its zoning ordinance in 2017 to allow for existing residential structures to be rebuilt, but they couldn’t be expanded and new residential structures could not be built.

    “It sent out a big scare amongst the homeowners down here for the simple fact that first of all our property was worth nothing during the time that it was zoned under (production, manufacturing, and distribution),” says Bell-Kramer resident Michael Simmons, whose family has owned a home in the neighborhood for more than 40 years. “If we had a fire, we couldn’t rebuild on the property. We couldn’t build additions to the property.”

    City officials say they sent notice to all of the affected Bell-Kramer residents before making any changes, but homeowner Erin Snyder says she and her neighbors only received letters from the city after the area had already been rezoned to production, manufacturing, and distribution (PMD). The rezoning had been in effect for a couple of years before the unintended consequences actually came to light when Snyder tried unsuccessfully to sell her home.

    Looking back

    In late 2012, DTE Energy proposed a 1.3-megawatt solar array on the site of a former landfill north of the Huron Street exit off westbound I-94 near Spring Street, but the utility company eventually backed out of the project. The potential for development allowed the city of Ypsilanti to receive funding for an environmental investigation to determine the extent of contamination on the site and how it has affected the adjacent Bell-Kramer neighborhood. The testing determined there were contaminants, such as methane gas and lead, present on the old landfill. Some of the contamination had migrated south, toward the highway and away from the neighborhood.

    The city notified residents of the contamination migration through a letter in the fall of 2013. Snyder says she was “freaked out” by the news, but she found some comfort in knowing the contaminants were traveling away from her property. She says she thought the risk for harmful health effects was minimal because the contamination generally followed the path of groundwater, which is well below the city’s water and sewer lines.

    In late 2014, the city rezoned the area from residential to an industrial-commercial use as part of a broader citywide rezoning in response to approval of the Shape Ypsilanti Master Plan, which was adopted in 2013. City planner Bonnie Wessler says the rezoning was primarily a result of the environmental testing.

    In 2016, when Snyder put her home on the market, she learned it wouldn’t appeal to potential buyers since it was considered a “non-conforming structure.” The designation makes it difficult for a homeowner to get a mortgage or insurance on the property since the house couldn’t be rebuilt. Snyder believes the decision to rezone the area to industrial essentially made her home unsellable.

    Snyder and some of her neighbors, including Simmons, went before Ypsilanti City Council to inform officials of the effect the rezoning had on their home and property values. She thinks most of the city council members realized a mistake had been made and wanted to move forward with fixing it.

    Council member Lois Allen-Richardson, who represents Ward 1, says she only voted in favor of the rezoning because she thought the houses in the neighborhood wouldn’t be affected. Once she was aware of the problems as a result of the rezoning, she felt a sense of an urgency to work with the residents to “make them whole.”

    Throughout the process, Simmons sought to serve as a liaison between Bell-Kramer residents and city officials, amid the community forums and public hearings held in relation to the issue. He got the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) and other governmental agencies involved to make sure the city was held responsible for ensuring the residential area was safe and free of contamination.

    Wessler says the city’s primary concern before taking any action was the potential contamination and its potential effects upon residents. Three rounds of vapor intrusion testing were conducted over the course of 2017. The fourth and final round of testing is scheduled in July. Residents say the testing hasn’t found any contamination on their properties so far.

    At the end of January, a neighborhood meeting was held to discuss a proposal to rezone the residential parcels to residential use again and rezone the vacant parcels to the open space classification of “park.” The Planning Commission held a public hearing, discussed the proposal, and voted to recommend the change to city council at a meeting on Feb. 21. City council held a public hearing and voted to approve the change at its March 20 meeting, and then voted to affirm the change on April 3. The area will officially be rezoned from industrial to residential use on May 3, after a 30-day period from the ordinance’s adoption.

    “It was something that never should’ve happened,” Allen-Richardson says. “We shouldn’t have to go back and correct it.”

    Looking forward

    Although the rezoning resolved the issues facing many Bell-Kramer residents, a few of them still might find it difficult to sell their homes. The owners of three properties located closest to the former landfill, including Snyder, are required to disclose information about the nearby environmental contamination to potential homebuyers.

    Read more:
    http://www.secondwavemedia.com/concentrate/features/bellkramer0454.aspx

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  1. […] few days ago, I posted a story here about the recent re-zoning of a neighborhood southeast of the intersection of Spring and Huron, and how, as a result, at least one homeowner on Bell Street, Erin Snyder, was finding it difficult […]

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