The Vicious Fight For Property Values In Detroit's Suburbs

Jun 2014
Cleveland, Ohio
You probably know Detroit has suffered a bankruptcy, high crime rates, population loss and various other ills, making it one of the least desirable big cities to live in in the country.

What you might not know is that Detroit's inner and outer ring suburbs include what is still some of the highest value suburban property values in the country. Towns like Grosse Point have property values that average above $1 million and are considered "luxury homes". These suburban cities are some of the hottest, most rapidly appreciating real estate markets in the country.

Between the outer ring suburban cities and Detroit proper lies the inner ring suburban towns, typically solidly middle class but obviously more vulnerable to Detroit's economic woes. One of these towns, Canton, has recently imposed a fine of $450,000 on two brothers for clearing land they owned which is surrounded by industrial use property in what seems to me to be an astonishing abuse of zoning power and a violation of these brothers' 5th and 14th amendment rights.

The brothers wanted to plant a Christmas tree farm, so they could make a profit from the land they owned and on which they already paid taxes.

They ran afoul of a zoning ordinance which says:

Landmark tree replacement: Whenever a tree removal permit is issued for the removal of any landmark tree with a (diameter at breast height) of six inches or greater, such trees shall be relocated or replaced by the permit grantee. Every landmark/historic tree that is removed shall be replaced by three trees with a minimum caliper of four inches. Such trees will be of the species from section
Replacement of other trees: Whenever a tree removal permit is issued for the removal of trees, other than landmark/historic trees, with a (diameter at breast height) of six inches or greater (excluding boxelder (acer negundo), ash (fraxinus spp) and cottonwood (populus spp)), such trees shall be relocated or replaced by the permit grantee if more than 25 percent of the total inventory of regulated trees is removed."
Michigan Live Report October 22, 2018

The 5th amendment to the constitution applies to the states and local governments because of the SCOTUS decisions under the 14th amendment. The 5th reads:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
The 14th amendment reads in relevant part:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
So, to recap, brothers Gary and Matt Percy own land which was zoned industrial, but as to which this "landmark tree" ordinance applies. They could not develop it as a factory site, and they were not legally allowed to develop it as a farm. When the government has used its zoning power to "take" every potential use, or even just the best use, of any private property owned by citizens, it must compensate the owners because of the prohibition against government taking without just compensation.

But here, rather than offering the brothers just compensation for the "loss" of their land's use, the town is levying a $450,000 fine. The 16 acre plot at issue, surrounded by industrial properties, could not be developed for ANY purpose and yet the town is demanding the brothers pay a fine of almost $30,000 an acre for the "violation" of clearing the land and planting christmas tree seedlings.

Michigan Live Report October 22, 2018

It's almost certain Canton's city fathers did this because they are fearful that unless they aggressively and artifically prop up property values there, the "Detroit effect" will destroy the value of everything in the town. And this is not entirely unrealistic; Canton Township lies south of Detroit, and lacks any proximity to the Great Lakes which has helped towns like Grosse Pointe sustain their exclusive, luxury character.

But no matter how noble the intentions, the fact remains that Canton Township wants the brothers to PAY because they declined to leave 16 acres they owned in a state of "natural decline". These are not protected wetlands; the trash plants on these acres include various invasive plants.

So......two questions.

First, do you bother to stay informed about the activities at the city hall where you live or where your business is located? It's this local government that has the most power to decide your economic future, and IME, few people ever visit the city hall when the mayor and councilmen are in session.

Second, is there ANY way the ordinances passed by Canton Township could pass constitutional muster, IYO? Sure seems like straight up theft to me, and I say no.

Similar thefts of value have been occurring in many suburban cities around the country.

City Pages for Maplewood, MN

Plain Dealer on Richmond Heights City Government Controversy

In related news, municipalities in this country are experiencing losses due to embezzlement and fraud that absolutely beggar belief.

American Cities & Towns Have The Worst Governments in America

Most Corrupt Politicians In The US Are City & Twnshp Officials

Furthermore, you can be harmed by bad municipal government in a town you have never visited, if they are devastated by corruption or ineptitude and you have invested in municipal bonds issued by that town.

Beware the Muni-Bond Bubble

Etc. Point is, your economic future is much more influenced by the local city hall than it is by the federal government. It is important to stay informed and vote for rational, honest local politicians.

Your thoughts?
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