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Historic District Commission denies Lafayette Towers proposal to build fence

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Management said the fence, which would have blocked access to the park, was necessary to ensure resident safety

An aerial view of a large, tree-filled park. Two metal towers rise on the right side.
The 22-story Lafayette Towers.
Michelle Gerard

During a regular meeting on November 13, Detroit’s Historic District Commission (HDC) denied Lafayette Towers’s proposal to erect a fence around the north, west, and south sides of the property.

The proposed six-foot wrought iron fence, which management says is necessary for safety, would have blocked tower residents from easily accessing Lafayette Park. It would also have put a barrier between the rest of the residents of Lafayette Park and a shopping center to the south.

At the meeting, several dozen residents of Lafayette Park submitted comments and spoke in opposition to the fence. Vice chair Dennis Miriani said it was the first time in his four years on the commission that he’d witnessed unanimous public opinion on a proposal.

The motion to deny was eventually passed. Some members of the commission suggested working with the HDC, tenants, and greater Lafayette Park neighborhood to come up with alternative solutions, like lighting and bollards, before submitting a new proposal.

In an email to tenants on November 6, the “Lafayette Towers Management Team” wrote...

Over the past three years we have had vehicles stolen right out of the parking lot, cars vandalized, several smash and grabs, and people walking on to the property without authorization. We have had people come from the park as well as the shopping mall; we know this because we have a surveillance system on the property. In conclusion, we are trying to prevent, deter, and provide a more secure environment.

It then asked residents to sign a petition in support of the proposal.

According to the Lafayette Towers website, there’s a 24-hour monitored gatehouse and after hours mobile patrol.

The two-building, 22-story Lafayette Towers are part of the Mies van der Rohe–designed neighborhood that arose in the middle of the century. Many consider the relation of the buildings—there’s also dozens of townhomes and another high-rise—to each other and the park an integral part of Lafayette Park’s composition.

Martin Miller, an engineer at Ford Motor Company who moved to the towers last year, was strongly opposed to the fence and said that access to the park was a “huge draw” in choosing to live there. “It was the obvious design intent of Mies and other architects for the neighborhood to be open,” he said. “To put a fence there is not just some minor thing.”

A report prepared by HDC staff prior to the November 13 meeting recommended denying approval of the fence. The report says that “pedestrian access through the development was a major tenet of its historic design. The fence installation is in direct conflict with the design and historic significance of Lafayette Park.”

Jackson Land Holding, which bought the towers in 2012 and undertook a $10 million restoration of the historic buildings, did not respond to a request for comment.

Lafayette Towers

1301 Orleans Street, Detroit, MI 48207 Visit Website