Monday, December 10, 2012

Detroit's urban agriculture ordinance and controversy over Hantz Woodlands

First, the good news from the Detroit Free Press.

Detroit's urban agriculture plans move forward
The Detroit City Planning Commission approved the city’s new urban agriculture zoning ordinance Thursday evening. The action takes the city closer to officially recognizing the city’s multitude of community gardens and encouraging new and larger urban farms.
Roughly four years in the making, the ordinance is expected to pass council easily, just as the commission approved it unanimously.
Kunstler should like this.  At least one city is trying to transition to a future where more people are involved in growing food, which is what he predicts.  On the other hand, Detroit should be careful.  As I've written before and am now telling my students, the solutions we develop here for our problems will be exported, even the bad ones.

Speaking of which...
The passage of the zoning ordinance does not settle the controversy over whether the City of Detroit should sell large volumes of tax-foreclosed vacant lots to large-scale farming efforts such as the proposed Hantz Farms tree-growing business. City Council is expected to take up the Hantz proposal again Tuesday.
Speaking of that controversy, WXYZ has a video report on that, as well.

Residents gathered to protest the potential sale of land near Indian Village to a Detroit company
This stikes me to be more about loss of local control than about the actual use of the land as a tree farm.  For that, one has to read the comments to an article by Jeff Wattrick of Deadline Detroit and Wonkette, who asks How Is John Hantz Different Than Dan Gilbert?
Really, what’s the difference between Gilbert’s strategy of purchasing downtown office buildings on the cheap and filling them with his employees and John Hantz’s plan to purchase city-owned vacant land for an agricultural venture?

Well, there is one difference. The majority of Gilbert’s purchases have been privately owned, partially occupied buildings that were already generating at least some property tax dollars for the city. Hantz is proposing to purchase barren, city-owned land, thus returning those parcels to the property tax rolls.
Given the choice between Hantz "grabbing" city-owned land so he can clean it up and develop tax-generating tree farms and the status quo—land as a city-owned liability with its own kind of “urban farm,” the kind that periodically sprouts old tires and discarded bags of Cheeto’s Flaming Hot, I’ll take the Hantz land grab every day of the week and twice on this Tuesday.

The fears of Hantz’s secret plans—he might build a factory!—are akin to 9/11 conspiracy theories and those Maine voter fraud allegations. Perhaps Detroit’s grape-throwing class hasn’t yet heard the news, but we’re living in a post-industrial economy. Rich white people don’t build factories anymore, not in the United States.

Hells bells, if John Hantz wanted to build a factory or condos or whatever, he’d probably just say so. If that were the case, the same people currently questioning his motives would throw him a parade.

The proposed Hantz purchase may raise a legitimate question about why one wealthy entrepreneur’s purchase offer rates so much attention when countless residents and small businesses have trouble purchasing neighborhood vacant lots from the city.

That’s valid, but denying Hantz doesn’t move us closer to a reality where the city—currently Detroit’s largest landholder—sells lots to tax-paying residents and businesses, for community gardens or pocket parks or even the occasional in-fill house, without a hassle.

Arguably, the Hantz sale might set a precedent whereby the city finally loosens its grip on its inventory of vacant and fallow land. Something it desperately needs to do.

At the least, the deal means Detroit will have 143 fewer acres available for illegal dumping.
That's the pro-Hantz view.  In the comments, Pro Detroit makes the anti-Hantz case by suggesting that Hantz is after the "Agricultural land tax exemption and Federal farming grants."  That at least makes sense to me, even business sense.  As for what else he calls Hantz, well, that might just be true, but I'm not going to repeat it here.  It also doesn't quite answer Wattrick's question.

As for my take, I think we're seeing the mirror image of the hysteria over Julie Bass.  I haven't talked to Julie in a while.  Maybe I should ask her what she thinks of this.

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