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  • By Lisa Brody

Resident files complaint against manager, mayor

Clinton Baller, a Birmingham resident who has consistently complained about the direction the city commission has proceeded with the Woodward Bates project, filed ethics complaints against city manager Joe Valentine and mayor Patty Bordman on Friday, May 10, alleging that Bordman voted to approve a development agreement, which includes the development group paying for the bond approval election in August, and that Valentine approved the issuance of an RFP for the development written partially by architect Victor Saroki, a member of the winning development group. The city of Birmingham and its ethics board received the two ethics complaints on Thursday, May 16. Birmingham city commissioners approved a resolution to put a parking structure bond proposal in the amount of $57.4 million before voters on the August 6 election at their meeting on Monday, May 6, in order to secure financing for demolition and rebuilding of a new parking structure to replace the N. Old Woodward structure and an extension of Bates Street, the first phase of the Woodward Bates project. The city issued a request for proposal (RFP) in November 2017 to redevelop the N. Old Woodward parking structure and create an extension for Bates Street. After a lengthy process, two finalists emerged, TIR Equities of Birmingham, represented by Ara Darakjian, and Woodward Bates Partners, to redevelop the N. Old Woodward parking lot with more parking, an extension of Bates Street, a liner of retail along the new street, a mixed use building comprising residential and office space, and a park. Woodward Bates Partners consists of Victor Saroki of Saroki Architecture in Birmingham; Paul Robertson of Robertson Brothers Homes in Bloomfield Hills; John Rakolta Jr., of Walbridge in Detroit, and Ron Boji of The Boji Group in Lansing. The parcel of land, approximately four acres in the city’s central business district, consists of the current N. Old Woodward parking garage, an adjacent parking lot and adjacent parcels. The city’s objective had been to solicit creative and innovative development plans from qualified developers that will extend Bates Street from Willits to N. Old Woodward, connecting the north and south parts of Birmingham, to redevelop the remainder of the site by constructing a new parking structure that will provide a minimum of 380 parking spaces in addition to replacing the 770 parking spaces currently on the N. Old Woodward/Bates Street site, plus adding residential, commercial and/or mixed uses in order to create an activated, pedestrian-oriented urban streetscape while also providing public access to the Rouge River and Booth Park to the north. The city commission chose Woodward Bates Partners in June 2018, and have proceeded with predevelopment agreements, development agreements, and approval of the bond issue for the ballot. Darakjian filed suit in federal court against the city of Birmingham, Valentine and commissioner Mark Nickita in March 2019, asserting that Saroki helped Birmingham develop its RFP, thus depriving Darakjian and TIR of their constitutional right to due process. The lawsuit stated that the city’s selection of the Woodward, Bates was the “culmination of an arbitrary, capricious, unfair, and unjust bidder selection process, tainted by, among other things, favoritism and conflicts of interest.” The city of Birmingham denied the allegations and requested a jury trial, attorney costs and denial of damages to Darakjian. Baller's ethics complaints appear to reflect complaints similar to Darakjian's suit, asserting that by Valentine “approving the issuance of an RFP for the development of Bates Street that was written with substantial assistance from architect Victor Saroki and his firm, and then allowed a development group that includes Mr. Saroki and his firm to respond to the in direct violation of … the Ethics Ordinance...'City officials and employees are bound to observe in their official acts the highest standards of ethical conduct.'” As for Baller's complaint against Bordman, in reference to her and her fellow commissioners' votes in favor of an August election to approve a bond to finance the parking garage, his complaint asserts that it was a violation of Birmingham's ethics ordinance that “city officials are bound to observe in their official acts the highest standards of ethical conduct,” and that by accepting the offer of a private developer to help defray the cost of a special election, “Mayor Bordman has created the appearance that the city has lost complete independence or impartiality.” A date has not yet been set for the complaints to be heard before the ethics board.

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