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Hantz Woodlands land purchase temporarily tabled

By Mike Sandula
The Michigan Citizen

John Hantz

John Hantz on cover of dBusiness

DETROIT — Hantz Farms is close to purchasing 1,956 vacant lots from the city of Detroit for $600,000. But many are concerned with how the company would handle the 170-acre parcel.

The land would be used for forestry development by Hantz Woodlands, a division of Hantz Farm. John Hantz is the CEO of Hantz Group.

Detroit City Council’s Planning and Economic Development Committee expressed myriad concerns at a Nov. 8 meeting.

“I’m happy that we have someone that will purchase up to 2,000 lots and will start paying taxes on those; that’s good for the city, but I’m just concerned in terms of the policy of it,” said Irvin Corley, Jr., director of Council’s Fiscal Analysis Division.

Councilmember Saunteel Jenkins questioned why the deal was done as a purchasing agreement, rather than a development agreement. If the land is sold and later used for development, it may have to come back to Council. Jenkins said they might as well deal with that up front.

“We have not gotten a reason why the Law Department feels that a purchase agreement is better considering all the outstanding issues,” she said.

The Kercheval-McClellan urban renewal zone was also a concern. While the plan was adopted in the early 1980s and hasn’t been acted on since, City Planning Commission Director Rory Bolger noted there’s an obligation to heed the ordinance. “We think it wise those 1,900 lots be extracted so urban renewal issues can be dealt with separately.”

Additionally, homeowners of neighboring properties will be able to purchase adjacent lots for $200 a piece, according to Rob Anderson, director of Planning and Development. Letters have so far been sent to 108 landowners, who have until Jan. 10, 2013 to indicate intent to purchase.

In a letter to Councilmember Jenkins, who chairs the committee, the Detroit Food Policy Council (DFPC) — a community-driven group that advocates for food justice in the city of Detroit — requested the proposed land sale be held off until urban agriculture ordinances are passed. The ordinances would allow gardens, farms and other forms of agriculture to grow throughout the city in specific zoning districts.

DFPC coordinator Cheryl Simon told the Michigan Citizen that the Planning and Economic Development Committee had earlier promised, at a public listening session held in August, to first pass the urban agriculture ordinances before selling any land to Hantz. To go back on that, Simon says, would set a bad precedent.

“I don’t think it bodes well,” Simon told the Citizen. “It’s a matter of public trust, in a lot of ways. We were told one thing and expect people to be true to their word. We need a process that’s transparent and fair, so if a sale goes through without those elements, it causes some problems.”

DFPC also wants this and other large-scale sales of city-owned land to be subject to public hearings and independent analyses for consideration of economic, environmental and policy implications.

Contact Mike Sandula at mikesandula@michigancitizen.com

 

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