By Charles Sercombe
As everyone in Hamtramck knows, parking is a premium.
But one loft owner in the southend managed to purchase a parking lot believed to have once been owed by the city.
According to sources, the city may have lost it to Wayne County because of a clerical error in not recording the lot as city-owned and thus tax-exempt.
According to Wayne County deed records, the city issued a quit claim deed in January 2017 to IG Immobilien LLC for $1 for the parking lot, located at 2936 Goodson.
That does not necessarily mean the city actually owed the parking lot at that time.
The quit claim deed was signed by former City Manager Katrina Powell.
The Review obtained a copy of that agreement through a Freedom of Information Act request submitted to the city.
The Review reached out to Powell for comment through email at her new job with Munetrix, a data management company based in Auburn Hills, where she is vice president of municipal services.
Powell did not respond.
The company that now owns the lot also owns a loft building across the street from the parking lot at 8820 Jos. Campau.
The parking lot has only several spaces, and became the focus of attention recently when it was reported a towing company was hooking up cars on a Detroit City Football Club game day.
While the towing company had warning signs in the lot, the management company for the loft building did not authorize the tows, said Acting City Manager Kathy Angerer.
Angerer added that the towing company, Shattila Towing, has since been told to back off from towing cars unless called by the lot owner.
The sale of that parking lot also raised a question about a city-owned lot sold under Powell’s management in August of 2016.
The lot, the former site of the Hamtramck Pub at 2048 Caniff, was sold to local developer Henry Velleman for $2,500, according to a deed agreement The Review obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request to the city.
Technically the lot was sold to the Judith A. Velleman Revocable Living Trust, but Henry Velleman appeared to have signed the deed agreement. Powell also signed the deed agreement.
The sale may have violated one of the final orders laid down by former Emergency Manager Cathy Square, which required that if a city asset was going to be sold, it must go through an auction process.
Square’s final order also required all sale proceeds of city assets to be deposited in the city’s pension fund.
Square was appointed by the governor to oversee management of the city for 18 months after the city fell into a financial crisis around 2012. Square left the city in 2014.
Square told The Review she had nothing to do with this sale and was no longer acting on the city’s behalf at the time of the sale.
It appears the lot was not put up for auction.
We also emailed Powell for comment about this sale, but she did not respond.
The lot is now overgrown with weeds and is connected with several other lots that Velleman owns on that portion of Caniff. The lots remain empty and undeveloped.
Velleman owns dozens of lots and commercial buildings in the city. He has been criticized by some in the community for keeping most of his commercial properties vacant, which has made a large chunk of Jos. Campau look empty.
Velleman owns Progressive Poletown Properties, located on Jos. Campau in Hamtramck.
City Councilmember Anam Miah, a critic of Powell, said if it is true that the Caniff lot was not sold through an auction, he will ask the city attorney to look into the matter.
Powell left as city manager at the end of June in 2017 when her employment contract expired.
In September of 2016, a month after Velleman purchased the Caniff lot, the online publication Mlive.com reported on local complaints about the blighted condition of Velleman’s various lots and his empty storefronts.
In the article, Mlive.com said it obtained an email Powell sent to “community stakeholders” explaining why she was not aggressively going after Velleman to take care of his lots and fill his empty storefronts.
“Clearly, if someone has ever met Henry and/or had a conversation with him, you know threatening him or pushing him against the wall, to get your way, Will. Not. Work,” Powell said in her email.
“Trying to shame him publicly just gives him the fight he so desires, and no one wins.”
Powell, who came from Florida to be Hamtramck’s city manager, further explained her change in strategy in dealing with Velleman in her email to community stakeholders:
“In the south, we believe you get more flies with honey than vinegar. Since the vinegar route hasn’t worked for this town in 25+ years, isn’t it time to try another route?” she said.
There were once big plans for Caniff site
By Charles Sercombe
Just how did the city come into the possession of the former Hamtramck Pub?
Like a lot of other buildings, houses and empty lots, the city took possession of the building when it fell into tax foreclosure. That was back in 2010 when the city purchased it from the Wayne County Treasurer’s Office for back taxes owed.
There were plans to rehab the structure, which was located at 2048 Caniff, and sell it.
But when inspectors got a look inside they found the basement full of water.
The city was not allowed to inspect the building before purchasing it – that’s how the rules go.
So, it was decided to raze the building and eventually sell the lot to someone who would hopefully develop the site.
A suspected arson fire destroyed the building before the city tore it down.
The property was remediated by the city, which included backfilling the basement.
It sat there for several years until local developer Henry Velleman bought it in 2016 for $2,500. The lot sits empty with foot-high weeds that joins several other vacant lots – some of which have been paved over.
May 25, 2018