Council OKs putting community benefits on Nov. ballot

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Detroit — The city’s voters will have to pick one of two dueling proposals on November’s ballot that both provide community benefits as part of large-scale development projects.

On Friday, the City Council approved putting a community benefits agreement measure before voters. Another proposal, backed by a grassroots petition with more than 5,400 signatures, will also be on the ballot.

Detroit City Council members Raquel Castaneda-Lopez, left, and Scott Benson.

During a special 8 a.m. meeting Friday, councilmembers voted 6-3 on a proposal for an ordinance that would require developers with major investments or seeking certain tax subsidies to provide community benefits, such as job opportunities and affordable housing.

Council President Brenda Jones, and members Raquel Castañeda-Lopez and Mary Sheffield voted no on the proposal, introduced earlier this month by councilman Scott Benson.

“My vote today is not against development,” Sheffield said. “I’m not against the progress that’s taking place in the city and I’m not voting to hinder the momentum we’re seeing.

“I am pro-business and pro-development, but I’m equally pro-community,” she said. “I won’t let the community and its tax dollars be used without a real benefit to those affected.”

Friday’s vote comes after weeks of debate over the issue.

Benson’s proposed measure was the result of working with a team of stakeholders for a year and a half, he said. Friday’s vote also came after weeks of debate over the issue.

“I’m pleased the council passed the proposal,” he said after the meeting. “I believe that we should have the right to have an option when it comes to development in the city of Detroit.”

The competing plan was put forth by Rise Together Detroit, a grassroots neighborhood organization.

Both proposals lock in guarantees and other protections for communities where major development is planned, but they differ on enforcement, levels of investment and city involvement.

Both Jones and Benson said whichever proposal receives the most votes in November would be put into place.

Under Benson’s plan, developers with projects worth at least $75 million or that will expand or renovate structures where a developer is seeking city-owned land or tax breaks of at least $1 million would be required to provide community benefits.

Rise Together Detroit’s proposal calls for developers to provide the benefits if they’re projects have a public and/or private investment of more than $15 million or they’re seeking a tax break from the city of at least $300,000.

It’s not clear what the dueling proposals will look like on the ballot because the election commission will decide that, Jones said after the meeting.

The city clerk must certify Benson’s community benefits proposal by Aug. 16, 84 days prior to the Nov. 8 general election.

Before the vote, only a handful of people addressed the council about the proposal during the meeting’s public comment section.

Marvin Beatty, a Detroit land developer and civic leader, was among them. He urged the council to approve putting Benson’s community benefits proposal on the ballot.

“Stand tall for the people of this city,” he said. “Stand tall for the developers who are trying to do the right thing.”

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