PHOTO CREDIT: MIchigan Radio

PHOTO CREDIT: Michigan Radio

It’s hard to argue with the basic concept of a community benefits agreement which, at its essence, means that you, as a neighborhood resident, should be entitled to some significant say-so over any major developments scheduled to take place in your own back yard. More specifically, you as a low-to moderate income neighborhood resident should be entitled to some say-so, because rich people rarely have to worry about unwelcome developments popping up in their neck of the woods without any community input. It simply isn’t done.

So the question to be considered, when weighing the merits of Proposal A vs. Proposal B, is not whether having a community benefits ordinance is a good idea. It is a very good idea. But the very important question is which community benefits proposal – Proposal A or Proposal B – represents the kind of community benefits ordinance that will help Detroit, and which ordinance will do the opposite.

The Michigan Chronicle believes strongly, and in no uncertain terms, that Proposal B is the way to go. Proposal A, though well-intentioned, would cause significant problems that, if implemented, will practically bring development in Detroit to a screeching halt while killing hundreds of jobs in the process. Not because developers will refuse to invest in any project requiring neighborhood input, but because Proposal A is a confusing and very poorly worded document seeking to address an issue that requires extreme clarity and precision.

And that’s just for starters.

Put simply, there is no way any project developer would ever sign on the dotted line with what Proposal A is proposing, and their hesitation would be justifiable for a number of reasons. Proposal B, on the other hand, offers a much clearer road toward progress that would not hamper development but would also foster the kind of community participation and input that should be required for any major development in our city.

First of all, Proposal A does not permit any participation from any city official – not the mayor, not any member of city council, not any other city official – in the actual negotiation process. To not include the participation of the very people whom the community elected to represent their interests in situations exactly like this poses a problem.

Read it for yourself:

The first organizational meeting for purposes of forming the Host Community representative organization to negotiate and execute a Community Benefits Agreement shall be called by the City Council Member or Members in whose district(s) the project is located.  The Council Member(s) shall schedule and call the first organizational meeting of the Host Community for purposes of forming the Host Community representative organization within twenty-one (21) days of the date of notice informing the Host Community of the proposed project.  Other than hosting the meeting, Council members and other City officials shall have no direct involvement in the processes of forming the Host Community representative or negotiating the Community Benefits Agreement. [bold italics ours]”  

Proposal B incorporates a more collaborative approach involving City Council, the Planning Department, and a Neighborhood Advisory Council working together.

Secondly, once Proposal A’s version of the neighborhood committee has been formed (with no limit to how many members can be on the committee, no qualifications required to be a committee member, and no time limit as to how long the negotiations may be allowed to drag on), supporters of Proposal A are suggesting that for any so-called Tier 1 development in Detroit that would incur an investment of $15 million or more, developers should be willing to sit down and negotiate terms with a group of concerned citizens from the neighborhood who may or may not be even remotely qualified to conduct such negotiations or understand anything at all about construction and development. Furthermore, they should be willing to endure these negotiations for as long as it takes to reach an agreement with no deadline in sight. And they should be willing to do all this for an investment threshold of only $15 million, which is an extremely low investment to be asking developers to jump through all these additional hoops.

In short, the investment would not be worth the hassle. Which is why Proposal B proposes a much more realistic and reasonable investment threshold of $75 million.

Thirdly, although many supporters of Proposal A make the charge that Proposal B offers no real enforcement measures to ensure that the agreed upon elements of a signed contract are carried out, it is actually Proposal A that offers hardly any notable method by which to enforce a contract.

Once again, you can read it for yourself here:

Sec. 14-12-7. Penalties for Noncompliance; Enforcement;

(1)  The provisions of this Article are prescriptive in nature, and are set forth as required conditions to request, provision, and receipt of Public Support For Investment for Tier 1 Development Projects, Tier 2 Development Projects, and High Impact Development Projects.  Material failure to comply with the provisions of this Article may result in denial, suspension, terminate, and revocation, or withdrawal of Public Support For Investment, but shall not be subject to the penalties set forth in Sec 1-1-9 of this code.  Except, when obtained through substantial and material misrepresentation or fraud, the resolution of City Council approving the Public Support For Investment shall be evidence of compliance with the provisions of this Article, and thereafter remedies shall be limited to enforcement of the Community Benefits Agreement and/or Development Agreement.

Section 2.  This ordinance is hereby declared necessary to preserve the public peace, health, safety, and welfare of the People of the City of Detroit.

Section 3.  All ordinances or parts of ordinances that conflict with this ordinance are repealed.

If it seems difficult to understand how the above language would provide the means for any meaningful level of enforcement, that’s because the language is difficult to understand. Now compare the above language to what is being offered in Proposal B.

(1) An Enforcement Committee shall be established to monitor Tier 1 Projects.
a. The Enforcement Committee shall be comprised of, at minimum, the following four individuals:
i. Corporation Counsel for the City of Detroit; or their designee.
ii. a representative from the Planning and Development Department;
iii. a representative from the Law Department;
iv. a representative from the Human Rights Department.
b. In addition to the members of the Enforcement Committee as identified in Subsection (1)a of this section, the Planning Director may require that other departments participate in the Enforcement Committee as needed.
(2) The Enforcement Committee shall provide a biannual compliance report to the City Council and the NAC for the time period identified in the Community Benefits Provision.
(3) The Planning Director shall facilitate at least one meeting per calendar year between the NAC (Neighborhood Advisory Council) and the Developer to discuss the status of the Tier 1 Project for the time period identified in the Community Benefits Provision.
(4) The NAC shall review any allegations of violations of the Community Benefits Provision provided to it by the community, and may report violations to the Enforcement Committee in writing.
(5) Upon receipt of written notification of allegations of violation from the NAC, the Enforcement Committee shall investigate such allegations and shall present their written findings to the NAC based upon the following:
a. Whether the Developer is in compliance with the Community Benefits Provision; and
b. How the Community Benefits Provision will be enforced or how violations will be mitigated.
(6) The findings of the Enforcement Committee shall be presented to the NAC no later than 21 days from the date the violations were reported to the Enforcement Committee, unless the need for additional time is reported to City Council and the NAC within the original 21 day time frame.
(7) If the NAC disagrees with the findings of the Enforcement Committee or determines that the Enforcement Committee is not diligently pursuing the enforcement or mitigation steps outlined in its findings, the NAC may send notice to the Enforcement Committee, and the Enforcement Committee shall have 14 days from receipt of notice to respond to the concerns outlined.
(8) If the NAC is not satisfied with the Enforcement Committee’s response, the NAC may petition the City Clerk and request that City Council schedule a hearing with opportunity for both the Enforcement Committee and the NAC to present information related to the alleged violations of the Community Benefits Provision and any enforcement or mitigation efforts that have occurred.
(9) If City Council elects to hold a hearing, or based upon the written information 22 submitted, City Council shall determine whether the Enforcement Committee has made reasonable efforts to ensure that the Developer has complied with the Community Benefits Provision.
a. If City Council determines that the Enforcement Committee has made reasonable efforts, City Council shall notify the NAC and the Enforcement Committee of their findings.
b. If City Council finds that the Enforcement Committee has not made reasonable efforts, City Council shall make specific finding to the Enforcement Committee on the steps that need to be taken to comply with the Community Benefits Provision.
i. The Enforcement Committee shall provide City Council and the NAC monthly updates on compliance actions until City Council adopts a resolution declaring that the Developer is in compliance with the Community Benefits Provision or has taken adequate steps to mitigate violations.
ii. City Council may hold additional hearings related to enforcement of the Community Benefits Provision as needed.

Is it lengthy? Yes. That’s because it is thorough.

And so is Proposal B. We support community benefits, but we need to get this right. And Proposal B gets it right.

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