Detroit could see competing community benefits proposals on the ballot

Detroit could see competing community benefits proposals on the ballot
June 12, 2016 Michigan Radio
Detroit's new Red Wings arena under construction. RICK BRIGGS
By Sarah Cwiek, July 13, 2016

Detroiters may get to choose between two, competing ballot proposals in November.

Both lay out a process for negotiating community benefits agreements with developers of large, publicly-subsidized projects.

Community benefits can range from job opportunities to health and safety protections. Such agreements are sometimes touted as a way to make sure neighborhood residents see gains from big development in their midst.

The Detroit City Council put one such proposal a step closer to the ballot this week. It was a petition-backed citizen initiative, led by a group called Rise Together Detroit.

But Mayor Mike Duggan, some Council members and the business community favor a competing ordinance in development, spearheaded by Council member Scott Benson.

Benson’s “enhanced” ordinance would have a panel of city appointees negotiate and enforce those agreements.

And it would only require agreements for larger developments — projects worth at least $75 million and receiving at least $1 million in publicly subsidies (including land transfers), as opposed to $15 million projects receiving at least $300,000 in public subsidies per the original ordinance.

John Philo of Detroit’s Sugar Law Center calls Benson’s plan a “diminished” version of the ordinance citizens petitioned for.

“Community seems to be sidelined quite a bit. The representatives who would do the negotiating are all selected by city officials,” Philo said.

“Taking a more cynical view … this is an attempt to confuse the voters between the two proposals.”

But others think it’s the citizen-proposed ordinance that’s confusing. They say it’s not spelled out who developers must negotiate with, and what kinds of benefits they can ask for — and will scare development away, just as it’s gaining momentum in Detroit.

The Council is expected to discuss the second proposal further at a committee meeting Thursday.

Both plans would ultimately need the Detroit Election Commission’s approval before they’re put on the ballot.

Support for the Detroit Journalism Cooperative on Michigan Radio comes from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Renaissance Journalism’s Michigan Reporting Initiative, the Ford Foundation and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.


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