By KEVIN WALKER
DETROIT, Mich. — Detroit city government voted last month to allow the Hantz Woodlands group to purchase 1,500 vacant lots in southeastern Detroit, allowing the project to move forward after lengthy delays.
“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 livable Detroit neighborhoods,” said John Hantz, president and CEO of the Hantz Group, on Dec. 12, one day after the council voted 5-4 to allow such a purchase to move forward.
“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.”
The price of each of the vacant lots will be $300. Hantz will have to demolish some structures on some of them. At this point in the venture, the main goal is to beautify vacant land.
That wasn’t always the case. President and CEO of Hantz Woodlands, Mike Score, described the project as a business and said it will also be about education and agricultural tourism.
For years, Hantz has had a problem getting Detroit officials to approve the project, which has gone through changes and become more scaled-down, at least for the time being.
Score couldn’t be reached for an interview, but in 2011 he said there was an issue getting different parts of city government to sign onto the concept. City officials were concerned about the Right to Farm Act, a state law that grants farmers immunity from nuisance lawsuits if they abide by certain regulations, which were created at the state level.
“That’s the major hurdle right now,” Score said at the time.
In order to work around the problem, Hantz ended up resorting to the concept of planting hardwoods on properties instead of raising food crops or even livestock. But Robert Anderson, Detroit’s planning and development director, thinks the purchase is a positive development for the city.
“I’m not afraid of this,” Anderson said in an MLive Media Group article last month. “I don’t think this is a transaction to be afraid of. I think we’ve stripped the plan down to its bare essentials; the guy is going to pay his token money for a bunch of land that’s empty and he will clean it up.”
When asked if the venture will create many jobs and spinoff business activity, Anderson said “no, unfortunately, because we said he can’t do agriculture. I was hoping it was going to be high-value, hands-on agriculture stuff; that was my hope. But if all he can do is plant trees – because the city currently doesn’t have an agriculture ordinance – then we’re not going to create a lot of jobs.
“And, you know, there’s (Michigan State University), we’ve entered discussions with them to do things. The University of Michigan is interested. There’s some lessons to be learned here, with agricultural options like urban farming, but you have to be willing to try things.”
For more on the project, visit the website at www.hantzfarmsdetroit.com