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Land values

By Shea Howell
Special to the Michigan Citizen

Hantz Farms is pushing its efforts to steamroll Detroit’s City Council. They have been meeting with local organizations, churches and individuals to gain support for their proposal.

In some ways, this effort is not new. John Hantz has been going to local groups for over two years, talking about his plans. Actually he has been sending Mike Score to do most of the talking. Mr. Score has a good reputation among many people in Detroit, especially in urban agriculture, where he has worked for many years prior to his association with Hantz. Mr. Score is generally seen as a person of commitment and integrity.

But Mike Score is not the one trying to buy more than 2,000 parcels of public land; it is John Hantz. And there are still far too many questions about this deal. The City Council and Mayor Dave Bing should not be bullied into acting on any large-scale land sale until the city’s urban agricultural policy is in place and there are full public hearings and discussions on this deal.

We oppose any action now because the deal violates basic principles we think are important in the redevelopment of our city. Here are the core values we uphold for any use of city land. Hantz falls short of them all.

- Fairness. Land should be made available to all citizens at the same rate and by the same processes as it is made available to one person. If John Hantz can purchase city-owned land at $300 an acre, every citizen should have that same right.

Ask any urban gardener about the vacant lot next to them or across the street and you are likely to hear stories of their generally failed efforts to purchase the land from the city. Individuals, community groups and churches can tell tales of city bureaucracy and foot dragging.

City-owned land is a public trust that should be made available to all, if it is to be made available to one.

- Transparency. Any plans to use public land for private purposes should include a clear understanding of what those purposes are, in both the short and long term. John Hantz has changed his short-term usage plan again and again. From vegetables to hardwoods, he has continually shifted his description of how he intends to utilize the hundreds of acres he wants to buy. Further, he has not agreed to any commitments for land usage after the first five years of ownership. 

- Commitment to the city. What demonstrable commitment to the city is there? Other than a home in Indian Village, whose value will presumably be increased by the surrounding green space he wants to create, what commitment to Detroit do his actions represent? Of the various Hantz enterprises, from bowling supplies to private planes, banks and golf courses, no corporate headquarters are located in the city. 

- Increasing local economic resiliency. Intentionally intensifying economic relationships within the city is key to our redevelopment. That is why we applaud Wayne State University, Henry Ford Hospital and DTE in their efforts to increase local purchasing. That is why Dan Gilbert’s efforts to expand into Detroit are generally welcome. Hantz has evidenced no such commitment.

- Primacy of lived experience. Detroiters have seen far too many schemes that used a claim to public good to cover an effort for private gain. Hantz casts his “farm” as Detroit’s “saving grace,” completely ignoring the entire urban agricultural movement, the life experience of people who have watched scheme after scheme fail, and the creative energies that are actually reshaping urban life. Our collective experience tells us that the burden of proof of intention and purpose should be on those who attempt to use city resources for their own gain.

John Hantz wants city land at bargain basement prices. The only value he seems to consistently hold is to personally benefit at public expense.

Contact Shea Howell at howell@oakland.edu


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