The Detroit City Council on Tuesday delayed a vote on a proposal to sell more than 1,500 city-owned parcels to a developer until Dec.11, pending a public hearing.
The controversial proposal involves selling more than 140 acres of what the city considers “surplus property” to Hantz Woodlands, LLC, for approximately $600,000.
Hantz Group President Mike Score plans to develop the property with a long-term goal to plant and maintain hardwood trees and conduct agricultural research consistent with city ordinances and zoning laws. Under the agreement, Hantz Woodlands would pay a reduced property tax rate and would clear up blight on the purchased property.
The vote was moved back to Dec. 11 pending a public hearing from people who “actually live in the affected area,” Council President Charles Pugh said.
At the public hearing portion of Tuesdays meeting, people who voiced concern about the land sale mostly did not live in the community in which the sale is proposed, council members said.
Council members said they stalled the vote on the land sale because they were not sure if the city had properly contacted residents of the area to inform them of the project.
Critics of the proposal call it a “land grab” that will set a precedent for other deep-pocketed investors to buy up large swaths of the city. Detroit food security activists argue that the land purchase is not fair to city residents who have to go through a different process to buy city land, and favors big money over small farmers in the city who are trying to acquire land.
Supporters of the project say that in a time when the city has no resources to maintain the city’ vacant parcels, any investor willing to clean up the city is welcome.
“Maybe we haven’t done everything we could have done to get input from the community,” said Rob Anderson, Director of the Detroit Planning and Development Department. “But what we have is an individual who is willing to clean this community and pay taxes. I don’t see the down side. It could be a countryside setting right here in the city,” he said.
Councilman James Tate said he was not against the proposal as long as some people, who lived in the Northeast portion of the city where the land is located, supported it too.
“If it helps Detroit, it helps me,” Tate said. “But I have to hear from people who live in the footprint of this project. I would like to see more cooperative relationship between the developer and the community.”
Councilman Gary Brown said he fully supported the project, which he said could “mothball” a large part of the city and take it off the growing list of city concerns.
Councilwoman Brenda Jones and Councilman Andre Spivey both said they wanted to wait to vote on the sale until January so that people have time to buy any lots they may be interested in before Hantz buys up the property.
Anderson said the developer wants the council to vote as soon as possible so that they can get head start of ordering hardwoods for the 2013 growing season.
Councilwoman Saunteel Jenkins, who chairs the council’s planning and economic development committee, said she was satisfied with the terms of the sale after years of negotiations. “This proposal has been around for a very long time. I’m at a place where I’m ready to move forward,” she said.
Ken Cockrel said he supported the land sale. “From all the letters and emails I have been getting there seems to be a class warfare aspect to this. The reality is, if we want to grow as a city, we want to welcome people who have more than a couple dollars in their pocket.”
The area affected by the sale contains an estimated 1,200 houses, half of which are occupied.
Council members discussed the logistics of having a public hearing favoring only those living in the City’s Northeast communities where the sale would take place.
The City’s Assistant Corporation Counsel Dennis Mazurek said organizing a special public hearing before Dec. 11 for the 600-plus households in the footprint of the land sale would be time consuming.
Pugh brushed off the concerns. “We have volunteers, we have interns, we have the recess,” he said. “Busy, shmizy, we’ll work it out.”