September 2, 2014 at 3:39 pm

Detroit council delays decision on transferring 39,000 sites to land bank

Detroit— The Detroit City Council delayed a decision Tuesday on whether to transfer about 39,000 parcels to an outside agency that’s acquiring and selling off troubled properties.

The council will take up whether to transfer the vacant residential lots that the Detroit Land Bank Authority will ultimately sell to residents at a planned price of $100 each.

The city wants to sell the properties to neighbors to get them back on the tax rolls. Hundreds of city residents are already taking care of vacant lots near their homes for planting and gardening.

After a lengthy discussion, council members said Tuesday there were too many unanswered questions on how property owners will get the vacant land, and whether the potential move gives up too much of the panel’s power under the City Charter.

“There's got to be something where the council plays a role in the disposition of land because that is a part of our charter-mandated power,” Councilman James Tate said. “I don’t believe we should be asked to repeatedly cede those powers and be OK with it because it’s called progress.”

Councilman George Cushingberry disagreed. He said allowing the professionals to handle those issues puts the council in a better position to deal with other areas.

“We have to sort of say let’s just get out of our past way of doing things and let’s try a whole bunch of new things because we’ve got a bunch of big challenges,” Cushingberry said. “As far as I’m concerned, the less of that I have to do, the better off we are.”

Councilwoman Saunteel Jenkins said she was not comfortable transferring that amount of property without any protection for city residents. Jenkins recommended a transfer of the property with an option that it reverts back to the city after a year if plans do not pan out.

“We need to discuss this more. It needs to be fleshed out,” she said. “To give away all of that property at once, this is huge.”

“Once it’s in that authority, there is no legislative oversight. If a year from now, we realize this was not the best option, we have no power to do anything about that.”

Others urged making the land transfer a pilot program to see how it works.

In April, the council transferred about 12,000 parcels to the Detroit Land Bank Authority. Most of the structures on the sites are set for demolition, but several are being used for the city’s auction initiative.

About 100 homes have been auctioned thus far under the program.

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