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The Neighborhood Marathon Oil Is Killing With Its Buyout

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Something stinks the in southwestern neighborhood of Detroit called Oakwood Heights and it is not the pollution. Ok, not just the pollution. It's the resident buy-out program being offered to home owners by the Marathon Petroleum Company. And while it's voluntary, many that really love their homes are feeling pressured to take it now, lest Marathon's offers decrease in price drastically once their neighbors have left. Oakwood Heights is a relatively well-kept, orderly hood that borders the Rouge River that Fox says has about 500 homes. For locals, the timing has been particularly insulting for many reasons.

Curbed Detroit met with six residents last weekend, half of which asked to remain anonymous since they were nervous about negotiating prices for their real estate with Marathon. The buyout has been divided into two zones, and all of them were in zone two, the one that has yet to receive their final offers. Zone one got theirs last November. Taking an offer means getting six months to move, so already the area is starting to look starker, and that means big, big problems for those still around. With vacancy comes crime, and zone two is positioned to suffer the brunt since they are basically a peninsula surrounded by the first zone.

As the area is part of Detroit's most polluted zip code, the buyout is an effort for Marathon to head-off a class action law suit before it starts. Perhaps residents would benefit in terms of longevity from leaving, but having Marathon force them out hurts. Marathon will bulldoze the homes it buys to create a "green space." The booklet sent to residents states that "Your participation in the Program, and receipt of benefits, will require you to release MPC from certain liabilities and claims related to the Program. It is recommended that you review the release language and any documents with your attorney." Residents we spoke to said the could not afford and had not engaged lawyers. Marathon offers a $1,000 bonus for signing up early.

As zone two residents await their formal offers on homes they do not want to leave, here is what is happening:

What was once a populated area is being taken over by blight and scrappers are moving in.

Interested home buyers from Brooklyn New York cancelled their plans to move to Detroit.

Neighbors worry about road access to zone two getting bad and have already noticed the local police have become unresponsive to their calls.

The word is out that this is a "dead zone." Investment is gone. Robberies and graffiti are back.

Long-time residents that fought hard against crime in the area ten years ago feel defeated, as if it was all for nothing. They remember getting together as a community to chase out drug addicts and finding people to move in that would care for the houses. Around 2005, they stared to see a turn-around in the area. They have taken pride in their access to the river and in helping each other out. One couple, Fred and Sue, have been there for 25 years said they "worked their tails off" for their home. They had just finished paying it off and while they don't want to move, they would like between $50-60 K for it. Another couple chimes in that they want $75 K. Marathon selected the real estate consulting firm, Community Interaction Consulting, Inc. (CIC) to handle the appraisals which will determine the offers. Neighbor Clarence Weems is upset about the new pipeline Marathon is putting down his street and that he no longer feels safe walking between houses after dark. Residents heard rumors of the pending program for a long time before they finally got the official word through the mail. They are clearly panicking over what the official offers will be and don't think they'll get back what they've invested in the homes. They also know that staying in a largely unoccupied area after the street lights go out will be dangerous. So far the city has not gotten involved at all, but residents guess they favor being able to tax Marathon for the land.

It remains unclear whether Marathon would expand the plant to their new chunk of land once enough people leave. In any case, one of the more tight-knit Detroit communities that fought its way back from crime an dilapidation is likely to be completely demolished in a few years if things continue on this track. Residents have not said where they'd like to relocate. Cash to start over in a cleaner area turns out not to be the gift that the Oil company had proposed it would be.

· Marathon Wants to Buy Out Oakwood Heights in Southwest Detroit [My Fox Detroit]