Detroit community benefits initiative moves forward

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — The City Council on Tuesday voted to send a community-driven initiative to Detroit’s Election Commission to determine if it can lawfully be placed on the November ballot.

The grassroots proposal, led by Rise Together Detroit, would require developers with major investments or those seeking certain tax subsidies to forge legally binding community benefits, such as job opportunities and affordable housing.

The council’s unanimous support to move the community plan forward comes as the panel weighs whether to put a dueling ordinance of its own before voters.

Councilman Scott Benson last week submitted an “enhanced” version of a long-debated ordinance after working with a team of stakeholders for a year and a half. The proposal is supported by the city administration.

Both Benson’s proposal and the community plan to lock in guarantees and other protections for communities where major development is planned. But the ordinances differ on enforcement, levels of investment and city involvement.

Representatives from the community group said Benson’s ordinance proposal strips the community of its ability to have a legally enforceable agreement with developers, leaving that power with the city. But Benson argues his enhanced ordinance “strengthens the community voice.”

The council plan would come into play for Tier 1 Projects with an investment of $75 million or more during construction, or projects to expand or renovate structures where a developer is seeking city-owned land or tax breaks of $1 million or more.

The neighborhood coalition wants agreements for Tier 1 development projects with a public and/or private investment of more than $15 million during construction, and for projects seeking a tax break from the city of $300,000 or more.

The community plan mirrors a version previously drafted by Council President Brenda Jones, who spearheaded the effort several years ago.

Benson said he worked on the plan with support from Jones. But Jones’ office has said she’s “disappointment” with the proposal. On Tuesday, she submitted a draft community benefits ordinance of her own.

Both versions are expected to be debated in a council subcommittee this week. The issue could come back before the full council on Tuesday.

If the council votes to place the council ordinance on the ballot as a voter initiative, it must be certified by the City Clerk 84 days prior to the Nov. 8 general election, which is Aug. 16.