DETROIT

Hantz Woodlands Deal Approved By Detroit City Council 5-4

12/11/2012 01:47 pm ET | Updated Dec 11, 2012

UPDATE: 5:01 p.m. --Mayor Bing released the following statement on the Hantz Woodlands deal to The Huffington Post:

“Today’s City Council approval of the sale of city-owned land to Hantz Woodlands is in line with my vision of transforming portions of Detroit by taking vacant, underutilized land and putting it back into productive use. The sale will result in the elimination of blight — debris, illegal dumping, and vacant structures — on a large parcel of east side property. I appreciate the passion and input of all who have been involved in the dialogue and culmination of this deal, particularly our community and City Council.”

UPDATE: 4:55p.m. -- Despite strong opposition from a coalition of urban farmers, community activists and local residents, Detroit City Council Tuesday approved the controversial Hantz Woodlands land deal. Under the proposed agreement, the city will sell roughly 140 acres the land to Hantz Woodlands, a division of the Hantz Farms, at slightly over 8 cents per square foot, provided they maintain the land, demolish a number of derelict buildings and plant 15,000 trees. As with the debate surrounding the agreement, the two sides of the issue remain sharply divided in its aftermath.

“We are greatly pleased with today’s decision by the Detroit City Council to approve the development agreement allowing us to contribute to creating more liveable Detroit neighborhoods," John Hantz, President and CEO of the Hantz Group said in a statement sent to The Huffington Post.

"We have been working with the City of Detroit for more than four years, meeting with city residents, negotiating with department representatives, the City Planning Commission, the administration and City Council members to reach an agreement that would allow us to move forward with our proposal and we are excited to begin developing Hantz Woodlands.”

Originally the project was pitched as an urban farm, and more recently as an urban forestry project. That depends on City Council passing an urban farming ordinance, which was recently approved by the Detroit City Planning Commission. The company says it plans to maintain land whether that measure passes or not.

Councilman Ken Cockrel Jr. defended his "yes" vote as an important step towards the city's redevelopment.

“A ‘no’ vote would have sent the message to the world that Detroit isn’t really serious about urban agriculture,” he told the Detroit Free Press.

Kate Devlin, who lives on the east side of Detroit and runs two urban gardens in the city, Faith Farm and Spirit Farm, called Council's vote a bad decision. Like many opponents of the agreement she sees the deal as a land grab intended to drive up scarcity and increase the price of land.

"I think it opens the gateway for other rich folks to come here to buy up land and essentially make themselves rich compounds," she told The Huffington Post.

She worries that Hantz Woodlands may block off streets in a manner similar to when a factory is built in a neighborhood. Devlin is also concerned that planting so many trees may damage city water pipes and introduce large amounts of pesticides to the area.

In an earlier statement to the Huffington Post Mike Score, President of Hantz Farms, said the company was "not going to plant genetically modified crops or indiscriminately apply pesticides across Detroit’s landscape."

Devlin also expressed her concerns that the $500,000 deal represented a double standard.

"The average Detroiter can't buy the lots," she said. "The lots we bought for Spirit Farm cost over $2,000 and we haven't got our title in 15 years."

Tensions were high at City Council chambers Tuesday, where numerous citizens spoke out against the deal. Upset over how Council was conducting business, Marie Thornton, Former Detroit School Board member stretched out on the floor and refused to let police remove her -- eventually returning to her seat.

A similar feeling pervaded a packed public forum Monday night, where citizens criticized the land sale and expressed anger at the thought that council might approve the measure.

Previously: Detroit City Council voted 5-4 to approve a deal between the city of Detroit and Hantz Woodlands, making the agreement the largest speculative land sale in the city's history, The Free Press reports.

Council Members Pugh, Brown, Jenkins, Cockrell and Tate voted for the sale, according to a tweet from Mayor Dave Bing's Group Executive for Planning and Facilities Karla Henderson.

The deal involves roughly 140 acres of city-owned land on the city's east side -- encompassing nearly 1,500 parcels scattered between Van Dyke and St. Jean Street and Jefferson and Mack Avenue.

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