Hantz Land deal done
Council Five approve Hantz deal
By Victor Walker
Special to the Michigan Citizen
DETROIT — Nearly 500 citizens stood in the blistering cold outside East Lake Baptist Church Dec. 10 to attend a public hearing held by City Council to share their views on the largest speculative land sale in Detroit history.
Most opposed the sale of more than 1,500 parcels of city-owned land to Hantz Woodlands. Citizens referred to the sale as a “land grab” and held signs that read “No to Hantz Woodlands land grab” and “Yes to community land trusts.”
One after another, residents addressed Council and insisted Council vote “no” on the Hantz Woodlands land deal.
Despite the opposition, Council voted 5-4 to approve the deal Dec. 11. Council members Gary Brown, Charles Pugh, James Tate, Saunteel Jenkins and Kenneth Cockrel comprised the “yes” votes.
The hearing on the no-bid contract valued at about $520,000 was held only after public pressure.
Each citizen was subjected to a search of their personal property and screened for weapons as they entered the building. Some felt it was unreasonable to be searched before entering a public meeting.
“The city is robbing us and we’re the ones getting searched?” asked resident Jackie Adams as a security officer waved his handheld metal detector across her body. “It is unbelievable what we go through to keep what belongs to us.”
According to Hantz spokespeople, the group will plant and manage approximately 140 acres of hardwood trees in the city and save the city maintenance and other fees. Citizens questioned the deal, saying it gives too much power to Hantz. Detroiters who attended the public hearing said they will have to rely on Hantz’s goodwill not to develop the land in a manner that would be detrimental to the community. Most believe there are no protections for residents in the approved deal.
“Who’s going to benefit from the land? Not the people. The land should be used in a way that immediately benefits the city of Detroit, not Hantz,” said resident Norval Wilson.
Some wonder why the city has not taken more time to explore other options such as selling to people and businesses in the neighborhood. Many said residents tried to acquire the land but were met with opposition from the city.
Another unexplored option is the formation of a community land trust proposed by Charity Hicks of the Detroit Food Justice Task Force who believes the trust “would take the land out of speculation and make it affordable and accessible to the people.”
Detroit resident James Johnson asked Council to “show some leadership” despite their voting history. Many who attended spoke of Council’s history of ignoring residents who clearly oppose particular initiatives in the city.
“You’ve already shown which way you’re going to go with this by the way you voted on the Consent Agreement,” Johnson said, referring to the agreement that formed an additional layer of bureaucracy and ceded power to the state’s “financial stability” plan for Detroit.
Council President Pugh ended the hearing unexpectedly short after a comment by resident Morris Mays. “We’re trying to express how we feel about the mistreatment and disrespect they put on us,” Mays said.
Mike Score, president of Hantz Woodlands said he would go home and review the notes he took during the hearing, but made clear there was no chance of him reconsidering the purchase. “What I heard was the people’s dislike for the process. We want a better process, too.”