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Citizens protest Hantz land sale

By Victor Walker
Special to the Michigan Citizen

DETROIT — Detroit City Council sent Hantz Farms back to the drawing board after a Nov. 15 committee meeting to revise a proposal for the purchase of more than 1,500 parcels of city-owned land.

Council members and concerned citizens expressed their concerns about the sale to Hantz Farms under a purchase agreement that would benefit the city financially, but would allow the commercial urban agriculture initiative to acquire the land with no specific development plan.

The proposed plan is valued at $600,000 and according to Mike Score, president of Hantz Farms, the only goal in acquiring the land is to “beautify the city and make it more livable.”

Brittany Scales, a Detroit resident, says Hantz’ intention is questionable at best.

“No one I know would buy that much land for that much money only to make it look good,” Scales said. “Is Hantz Farms working within the law to cheat the people?”

Councilwoman Saunteel Jenkins, chair of the Planning and Economic Development Committee, said: “I am not debating the benefits. The question is ‘Why wouldn’t we have protections to make sure that’s all you do unless you come back to the city for permission?’”

Some citizens are also cynical and believe that without a specific plan under a development agreement, “more livable” could translate into expensive homes they cannot afford.

“What’s really going on?” Terrence Stacks White asked after the meeting. “Clearly, their vision is to develop something on the land. I’m concerned it would be something like town homes or condominiums that would benefit them and not the city.”

Detroit resident Judy Gardner believes a development agreement is the only way to ensure Hantz Farms doesn’t intend to buy up the land only to sell it to a third party for profit. “They have not been forthcoming,” Gardner said. “If their plans are so beneficial to the people of the city of Detroit, why have they gone to great lengths to keep them under wraps?”

Bruce Goldman, senior assistant Corporation Counsel at the City of Detroit Law Department, said, “A development agreement is not needed because there is sufficient regulation under the existing zoning ordinance to protect from deviation from what Hantz Farms has said it wants to do.”

Some argue that public hearings should be held in an effort to be fair and transparent because such large amounts of city-owned property is at stake.

“Agreements need to be made public before being voted on by City Council and citizens should be adequately informed,” said Cheryl Simon, coordinator for the Detroit Food Policy Council.

Others say a deal of this nature is premature considering the city is waiting on an Urban Agriculture Ordinance that would govern proper land use. Phil Jones, chair of the Detroit food Policy Council, said, “I am disappointed that this is going forward without the urban agriculture ordinance being passed as promised. I think people want to talk about these issues.”

Hantz Farms is “not proposing to do anything other than clean the property up,” said Marcell Todd, Jr., director of the City Planning Commission. “If an urban agriculture ordinance passes, they would be subject to that ordinance and would have to come back to this body.”

Renee Wallace, a Detroit resident, spoke of Hantz Farms’ dream of building the world’s largest urban farm on the east side of the city. “That dream was not downscaled to doing landscaping.” Wallace asked the Council to suspend approval of agreement until proper protections can be put into place and the “real deal is on the table.”

Score asked Council for more time to “change the language” of the agreement to address their issues. Councilmember Jenkins said explicitly that she would only entertain a development agreement that included a provision requiring Hantz Farm to follow up with the Council should they change the agreement. The Committee voted the measure out to the entire Council on Nov. 20 body  without recommentdation.

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