Engelbert, who owns the Detroit Street Filling Station, says she got a letter from the Downtown Development Authority on August 22 that “basically said, ‘We’re about to blow up your life, and you have nothing you can do about it.’ I ran into Diana Marsh from Thistle & Bess, which is right across the street from us, and she was upset, and she hadn’t heard about it.”
The project to replace water mains, resurface streets, and add a bike lane on Miller and Catherine is massively disrupting access to the entire Kerrytown area. But Marsh, a Kerrytown District Association board member, says she got only “a brief description of what was going to be done [and] the expected timeline.”
KDA president Grace Singleton, a managing partner at Zingerman’s Deli, says she heard about the project verbally a few months in advance, but with no dates attached. She, too, got the letter from the DDA on August 22 informing her work would start on the 26th—and the barriers went up on the 25th.
“In the letter it had said that Detroit St. between Catherine and Fifth would remain open,” says Engelbert. “But when I finally walked around and saw all the signage in the Kerrytown area, I saw the big sign that said, ‘Detroit St. closed from Catherine to Fifth.’” She corrected it with taped-on “OPEN” signs.
“Then the 26th is when they started saw-cutting the concrete right next to the restaurant,” Engelbert continues. “Our whole seating area now is outdoors. We haven’t had indoor dining since Covid.”
Things were no better when she was interviewed two weeks later. “Last night at 5:30 our patio was starting to fill up for dinner,” says Engelbert. “Then the jackhammering started, and then one party after another started to leave—like, just leave—because they couldn’t take the noise. I called one of the guys who’s supposed to be our contact on the ground, and he was there, but he couldn’t really do anything. So I called the mayor.”
As mayor Christopher Taylor remembers, “she asked how the city enforces the noise ordinance. And I told her that the police enforced the noise ordinance.”
When applicable: the jackhammering was loud but not over the legal limit. “The cop came, and I talked to him for a while, and he said there was nothing he could actually do,” Engelbert says. But he was friendly and helpful, and Engelbert persuaded him “to get them to stop for the night.” They did, she said—but that’s “not something I can do all the time.”
She talked to city administrator Milton Dohoney, “but it’s not his project. It’s the DDA’s project.” So she met with the DDA’s new executive director, Jeff Watson.
“He insisted we had had prior knowledge,” she continues, “and I challenged him to present any kind of communication from them to us that would’ve told us what was up.”
“People were aware of the project and had an opportunity to talk about it,” insists Watson, who started in January. He says that public engagement started in late 2020, that there were three days of sessions on the project in March 2021, and that stakeholder meetings continued throughout the design phase.
“I did get a message and participated in a Zoom call on March 4, 2021,” emails Engelbert in response. “At that time the project was theoretical and no date had been set for its execution. I never received an invitation to any further stakeholder meetings.” Neither did Marsh.
“Many of the business owners in the Kerrytown district don’t feel like they are being considered a partner with the city,” says Singleton. “They don’t feel like their business operational needs are being taken into consideration.
Watson says that the project is “scheduled to be done about the middle of October with the final work to be done in early November” and that they’re doing “everything we can to minimize the disruption.”
“The point is that businesses should have a seat at the table,” Engelbert says. “If I’m expected to lose $2,000 a day throughout this process, you’re basically gonna be trading a restaurant for a bike lane—and we won’t be here.”