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Detroit's approval of concrete mixing plant questioned

A man wearing brown, standing in front of his house
For the nearly four decades Robert Bostic has lived in his house he’s watched the entire block across from him transform from residential to industrial. (Credit: Quinn Banks, Special to BridgeDetroit)

The City of Detroit granted a permit to a concrete mixing plant owned by a Moroun-family company even after the business began construction on the facility without the proper environmental clearances.

Information obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request to the city’s Buildings, Safety, Engineering, and Environmental Department (BSEED) reveals that Crown Enterprises began constructing the plant in the Cadillac Heights neighborhood before city permits were secured.

In June 2022, BSEED issued a violation notice, ordering Crown to stop work on the plant, named Kronos, and return the lot to its original condition. 

But the city did not punish the business for operating illegally. Instead, Crown was issued a permit to operate just a few months after it was found to be in violation of the city’s building code. 

The plant – which creates dust and noise and increases truck traffic in the neighborhood – kicked back into operation last month with plans for up to 60 new or additional jobs, signaling intentions for a long-term existence. However, there are also questions about whether the plant meets exemption requirements that preclude it from state regulation. 

The situation is the latest example of the city allowing special dispensations for heavy industry operations nestled in majority-Black neighborhoods where residents face a daily battle against pollution and displacement. And it’s the latest in a string of consequences resulting from the city’s land swap with the Morouns that cleared the way for construction of the Stellantis FCA plant.


This story also appeared in Planet Detroit

On the city’s east side, that plant has violated air quality laws eight times by emitting strong odors, prompting calls from City Council for resident buyouts. A warehouse owned by the company brings nearly a truck a minute past residential homes. In Southwest Detroit, residents are also plagued by relentless truck traffic, begging for years for an ordinance to address the issue. On the city’s west side, a battle is ongoing in court to shut down a concrete crusher that has violated city code nearly 300 times in two years and blanketed the neighborhood in dust. 

In Cadillac Heights, the neighborhood outside Robert Bostic’s front door resembles nothing like the one he once knew. 

The manicured residential community Bostic enjoyed for nearly 40 years is now marked with vacant gravel lots, ragged fencing, mounds of debris and the multiple-stories-high concrete plant. 

Several trucks parked in front of a plant
The concrete mixing plant in Cadillac Heights owned by a Moroun family company. (Credit: Jena Brooker, BridgeDetroit)

“I don’t know what’s going on over there. It’s all hush-hush,” said Bostic, 81. 

Many of Bostic’s longtime neighbors felt pressured to relocate and sold their homes to Crown Enterprises, which have since sat vacant and blighted. 

Kenneth Dobson, vice president of the Morouns’ Ambassador Bridge Company, touted the concrete facility as a site that “will support local infrastructure projects and create (45 to 60) union job opportunities for local residents.” 

But remaining residents say they’ve had little-to-no communication from Crown Enterprises and have felt in the dark about what’s happening to their neighborhood. Because the lot is zoned for industrial use, city laws do not require Crown Enterprises to notify residents about the concrete plant. 

Bostic was among the residents who received an offer on his home – $12,000. According to real estate firm Redfin, the median price of a home in Cadillac Heights in March 2024 was $33,000, down 27.8% from a year earlier.

“He [Matthew Moroun] trying to take over everything now. He buying up everything around here.” 

Robert Bostic, Cadillac Heights resident

“I couldn’t sell for that price,” Bostic said of Crown’s offer, adding he’s invested a lot into his property over the years. 

“He [Matthew Moroun] trying to take over everything now. He buying up everything around here.” 

A growing empire, but at what cost?

For the last several decades, the Morouns have been growing their industrial footprint in the 99% Black neighborhood. Crown Enterprises owns 160 parcels in the neighborhood out of 215, representing 21 acres. 

In the summer of 2022, City Council Member Scott Benson said he reported the illegal activity at the site to BSEED, leading to the violation notice. Amid media coverage of the controversy, Crown Enterprises shut the plant down in late summer and removed the equipment.

Dobson said Crown never received the 2022 violation notice and didn’t know it was operating illegally. He said the violation was sent to a former employee at Hercules Construction, another Moroun subsidiary. 

Once the permit was issued, Crown was no longer in violation, according to BSEED.

A white house on a street
Homes near the concrete mixing plant in Cadillac Heights on March 18, 2024 were blighted and open to the elements. They have since been demolished. (Credit: Jena Brooker, BridgeDetroit)

“The land where the plant is operating…has been privately owned and zoned industrial for years, so this plant is a permitted use under the current zoning,” BSEED Director David Bell said by email.  


For more than a year, homes that Crown bought sat vacant without doors and windows, and trash strewn about. But the last city blight ticket issued was in May 2023. 

historic photo on the left and current google maps on the right
DTE Aerial Photo Collection 1949 image and Google Eath showing Cadillac Heights and the footprint of the concrete mixing plant. (Credit: Dave Gifford)

“It looks like someone came through like a bulldozer and just tore up everything. Just looks horrible,” said Andrew Bashi, a lawyer at the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, who represented some of the residents in selling their homes to the Morouns.

In February, Bashi submitted a FOIA request for all city records related to the concrete plant, revealing that the plant was illegally built. BridgeDetroit also filed a FOIA request in February for permit applications submitted by the Morouns and its subsidiaries between 2022 and the present, but the request remains unfulfilled. 

Dobson said houses sat vacant because the company was waiting for utilities to be disconnected before demolishing them. During that time, they were “vandalized frequently,” he said.

Residents and advocates say it follows a pattern seen elsewhere. The Morouns obstruct the law and contribute to blight, but they are let off the hook in Detroit and even in Canada


In 2011, the Morouns were accused of commissioning fake Homeland Security signage around part of Southwest Detroit’s Riverside Park and, a year later, illegally routing truck traffic around the building, according to reporting by Curbed Detroit. That same year, Manuel Moroun was jailed for failing to meet court-ordered construction deadlines for the Ambassador Bridge. In 2022, the city settled with the Morouns on blight tickets for nearly 2,000 properties, Axios reported. Then, this March, the Morouns demolished a former Greyhound bus building, with hopes of expanding the bridge area without first receiving the required approvals for an expansion, the Detroit News reported.

“It looks like someone came through like a bulldozer and just tore up everything. Just looks horrible.”

Andrew Bashi, a lawyer at the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center

In April, BSEED officials said they had not been aware of the Morouns blight in Cadillac Heights but that Crown Enterprises was typically responsive. 

“We expect them to respond in a timely manner and will monitor their progress. We also will have an inspector canvas the streets in that immediate area to look for any other issues,” Bell said by email in April after being informed of the issue by BridgeDetroit.  

Multiple residents say they have mowed and maintained properties that the Moroun company let sit for years until Crown Enterprises was ready to use them. 

“I’ve been out here taking care of it, both sides of the street, really,” said Bostic. 

Neighborhood leader Savannah Lewis, 94, also spent years mowing lots that belonged to the Morouns near her home on Charest Street. When the concrete plant first went up, and Lewis received an offer from the Morouns to sell her house, her daughter Victoria contacted Benson for information about what was going on. But Victoria said it “didn’t do any good.” 

two house next to each other
Savannah Lewis’ former home on Charest Street (left) on March 4, 2024. The house has since been demolished. (Credit: Quinn Banks, BridgeDetroit)

In 2022, Benson told BridgeDetroit he wasn’t aware of any community complaints and would look into them. In a March 2024 follow-up interview, he told BridgeDetroit that he did, in fact, receive complaints.

“We had two people who complained about this, and they were just concerned about the process and the offers on the property. So we reached out to see how that turned out.” One person sold their property and didn’t want to talk, while the other couldn’t be reached, according to Benson. 

After feeling like she had no options with Crown Enterprises buying everyone out, no help from her council representative, and the concrete plant now operating across the street, Lewis sold the home for $200,500 in December 2023, the home she had lived in for six decades.

Lewis declined an interview. Today, her entire street is empty. 

‘Usually objectionable’ uses

The parcels across from Bostic are zoned M4 Intensive Industrial, meaning Crown Enterprises has a “by-right” land use, and notice to residents of development is not required. The zoning allows for “usually objectionable” uses, and “the district is rarely if ever, located adjacent to residential districts,” according to the city. 


Bashi, the attorney, said it shows that the system is broken and facilities are often permitted without public discussion. 

“They have by-right ability to build these types of facilities even though they’re literally right next to a bunch of residents,” he said. 

The state’s environmental department said it has not yet conducted a full inspection of the site.

The plant is operating without a permit from the state under a rule that exempts operations with a certain setback, fugitive dust plan, and other measures, according to Jill Greenberg, a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy. 

A woman sitting on steps of a porch of a brown house.
Samantha Flowers at her home on March 4, 2024. (Credit: Quinn Banks, Special to BridgeDetroit)

But the company may be in violation of one of the stipulations that requires a 250-foot setback  distance from residential homes or commercial buildings. Measuring from some parts of the lot, the operation encroaches on residential homes. 

In February, as the concrete site was seeing a flurry of activity, resident Samantha Flowers said she began reaching out to Benson and the District 3 business liaison for answers, but none were provided. Crown officials didn’t reach out either, she said. 

She worried about the concrete plant coming back. Her concerns proved to be legitimate.

“There are days when it is constant dust and haze, generator/engine noise that is audible indoors sometimes going until after 1 a.m., and a general eyesore,” Flowers said. 

Concrete batch plants release dust and particulate matter which can affect the heart and lungs and cause serious health effects, according to the University of Texas at Austin School of Law. 

But Crown Enterprise representatives say the ready-mix facility is an eco-friendly construction material that reduces the amount of dust in the air compared to manual mixing facilities. 

Flowers is also concerned about the increased truck traffic and how it fits in with the Joe Louis Greenway plan. In addition to the concrete plant permit, Crown received a permit from BSEED to park trucks at the adjacent lot, 17231 Moran St. The neighborhood will soon host a portion of the recreational 27.5-mile trail, bringing bikers and walkers daily to the area. 

“It’s really wild to watch this whole neighborhood transform in its negative way–it’s devastating.”

Samantha Flowers, Cadillac Heights resident

Benson said he is looking into rezoning heavy industrial areas abutting the greenway. In 2021, Benson proposed a zoning change that would have given the Morouns more industrial activity leeway in Southwest Detroit. 

While nearby areas could be down-zoned in Cadillac Heights, that’s not a legal option on land that the Morouns already own and have permits to operate on. 

“That’s why these are the things that have to be done proactively,” Benson said. 

Flowers said the area has already suffered with the exodus of longtime leaders. 

“It’s really wild to watch this whole neighborhood transform in its negative way–it’s devastating,” she said. “They (neighborhood leaders) kept their area together… and it’s sad, because now it’s just a complete wasteland.”

Land for jobs

Part of the land the Morouns acquired in Cadillac Heights was rapidly advanced through a 2019 land swap that the city coordinated to give Stellantis land to build the east-side automotive plant. 

Current council members who voted for the swap are City Council President Pro Tem James Tate and Benson; Mary Sheffield voted no. Tate declined to comment on the impact of the land swap. Sheffield did not respond to a request for comment.

Benson said he couldn’t have anticipated the situation today in Cadillac Heights, and defended his vote.

A blighted white house
Many homes near the concrete mixing plant in Cadillac Heights neighborhood were left blighted. This one photographed March 18, 2024, was torn down this spring. (Credit: Jena Brooker, BridgeDetroit)

“I still support and stand in front of my vote to bring jobs and development and investment to the City of Detroit and focus on our residents,” said Benson. 

The impact of jobs has been contested, however. In December, Stellantis warned that it might lay off nearly 2,500 employees at the Detroit plant and in early March, Stellantis cut an undisclosed number of supplementary workers from the Detroit plant. 

Meanwhile, the factory has been the source of ongoing health concerns from residents, It has received eight air quality violations from the state and prompted discussion of home buyouts for nearby residents.

Benson said he has no control over who buys private property. 

“I still support and stand in front of my vote to bring jobs and development and investment to the City of Detroit and focus on our residents.” 

Scott Benson, City Council member

“That has nothing to do with me, I made no introductions. I have not inserted myself with this process whatsoever,” he said.

Luke Polcyn, the city’s senior executive for development and economic transformation, echoed the thousands of good-paying jobs the land swap brought to Detroit, which he noted was unanimously approved by city council.

“When the Morouns (Crown) acquired the land, they remained fully obligated to develop the property in compliance with all zoning and other regulatory laws, and the city will act to ensure they remain in compliance with those laws,” he said. 

In addition to reporting the illegal construction of the concrete plant, Benson said he’s since pushed Crown Enterprises to do community outreach to inform residents. 

Dobson said the company hired Compass Strategies in February to engage with residents.

Flowers said she received Crown’s first communication in May. The company started moving equipment back to the lot in February.  

The company is hosting a hiring fair for full-time positions on May 20 at 3415 E. McNichols. According to an email sent to Flowers, the site also anticipates streetscape improvements, tree planting, and green buffers. After the hiring fair, the company plans to set up meetings between residents and concrete plant project leaders to hear concerns. 

“The most disappointing part is that there was never any community outreach or engagement from the city prior to this development,” Flowers said. “They have just let Crown turn it into an industrial playground with no questions asked.”

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