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Land sale draws huge, negative reaction at public hearing in Detroit

Sarah Hulett
Michigan Radio

A proposal to sell more than 140 acres of abandoned lots in Detroit drew hundreds of people to a public hearing tonight.

The vast majority were there to speak out against the plan.

Financial services entrepreneur John Hantz wants to buy more than 1,500 blighted city-owned lots and plant hardwood trees on them. Under the proposal, Hantz would pay $300 dollars per lot.

“The mission is to invest in blighted neighborhoods to make them more livable, specifically by buying unmanaged publicly owned land and putting it back into the marketplace, and then maintaining it so that it fits within the remnants of viable neighborhoods,” says Mike Score, president of Hantz Farms.

Score points out that the Hantz Woodlands proposal calls for a commitment to demolish at least 50 vacant buildings in two years. The sale would also put the property back on the tax rolls, and guarantee that it’s maintained. That’s something the city can’t afford right now. City officials say Detroit owns about 60,000 abandoned parcels citywide.

But critics call the proposal a land grab.

Gary Dennis was among those who complained at the public hearing about the purchase price. He says he's been taking care of vacant lots near his house for years.

"Now you want to sell the land that we’re keeping up,” he told council members. “And when I bought this land on Garland, one lot cost $1,000. So why he paying $300? Can I get a rebate?"

The proposal actually does call for property owners who live adjacent to the lots in question to get the right of first refusal, and the ability to purchase lots at $200 each.

The city council is scheduled to vote on the proposal tomorrow.

Sarah Hulett is Michigan Public's Director of Amplify & Longform, helping reporters to do their best work.