About 60 people gathered at Mackenzie Hall Tuesday evening to discuss a lawsuit accusing the Ambassador Bridge company of ruining the neighbourhood to the west of the span – including bridge company president Dan Stamper himself.
Stamper made himself comfortable in the centre of the front row as lawyer Harvey Strosberg explained the suit and answered questions from residents. He chose a seat next to 91-year-old Steve Chaborek, one of the few remaining homeowners living on Indian Road among the boarded-up houses owned by the bridge company.
The lawsuit claims Chaborek’s home is one of many that have lost value over the past decade because of the neighbouring homes that the bridge company bought up and left unoccupied. The company bought 112 homes – mostly on Indian Road, Rosedale Avenue and Edison Street – with the intention of demolishing them to build a twin span next to the Ambassador Bridge, despite the opposition of various levels of government including the City of Windsor.
Strosberg took the opportunity to chastise Stamper and blame the bridge company for the declining state of the neighbourhood.
“They’ve turned it into a slum,” Strosberg said. “He has the nerve to sit here. You can stay, but you can’t speak.”
Stamper spoke to residents and passed out business cards after the meeting. He said the bridge company is more than happy to demolish the homes and would even consider fixing up some of the ones that are still in habitable condition, but needs permission from the city first.
Stamper said the city shares the blame for the state of the neighbourhood because it has blocked the demolition of the homes. “They’re using the community as pawns in a fight with me,” he said.
Residents stories of how their lives have been affected by the deteriorating conditions in Sandwich. Many landlords said they’ve had difficulty renting their properties because no one wants to live next to blighted homes and can’t sell them because they’ve lost so much value.
Mike May said he’s owned a home on Edison Street for 17 years. He currently has longterm renters, but said he worries about what would happen if they decided to move out.
May said he hopes the lawsuit finally prompts the bridge company to do something. “The value of the home is nothing. We can’t sell it. We’re lucky we still have renters,” he said.
The bridge has yet to file a statement of defence. Strosberg invited residents in attendance to fill out forms detailing their personal situations and invited more people to join the suit.