In a hard-fought race that drew a stark and heated dividing line between passionate Detroiters in a battle to determine what was the most sensible way to craft a community benefits ordinance that would actually benefit the community, a majority of the city’s voters sent a clear message early Wednesday morning that when it comes to how best to regulate and control community development projects in their neighborhoods, Proposal B is what makes the most sense. With 98 percent of all precincts reporting, it appeared likely Proposal B was the victor by a margin of 7 percentage points, 54-36 percent.
A bit of background: The community benefits ordinance which eventually became Proposal A was first introduced to City Council two years ago and was designed to give Detroit citizens more say-so in the development process. The original ordinance required that all $15 million development projects with at least $300,000 in subsidy be reviewed by host committees within Detroit communities.
The ordinance grew from a petition by a grassroots campaign, Rise Together Detroit. The campaign believed that the ordinance would help ensure that “those within ‘old Detroit’ are not left out” as the city continues to be developed. Rashida Tlaib, former Michigan House representative, is a leader in the push of the ordinance. In an interview with Michigan Radio, Tlaib suggested that the ordinance requires more of a burden for Detroit communities to get organized and that more public conversation regarding upcoming developments will discourage corruption. She said that what has come to be known as Proposal A would ensure that issues such as public health, noise barriers, quality of life and blight aren’t overlooked by developers.
Councilman Scott Benson submitted an alternative ordinance that is more palatable to the business community but has drawn significant fire from supporters of the original version. Opponents of Benson’s version, which became Proposal B, claimed he was trying to undermine the petition, which Benson strongly denied. Benson and his supporters (only three City Council members – Council President Brenda Jones, Councilwoman Mary Sheffield and Councilmember Raquel Castaneda Lopez – supported Proposal A) have consistently claimed that Proposal A was a poorly-worded and ultimately confusing contract that would, as a consequence, be difficult to enforce and would also discourage development in the city at a critical time when Detroit is just starting to wage a comeback.
Proposal B also offers a much higher project development threshold of $75 million compared to the $15 million offered by Proposal with the rationale that a $15 million development project is not big enough to expect any developer to put up with in addition to all other existing hurdles. Benson said that $75 million was more realistic. Proposal B also allows participation from city elected officials in the negotiation process between neighborhood groups and developers, whereas Proposal A shut out participation from city officials – elected or otherwise – altogether.