Detroit council rejects land transfer for new bridge project

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — The City Council unanimously rejected Tuesday a resolution to authorize the transfer to the State Land Bank of 301 city-owned parcels in the footprint of the future site of a new Detroit River bridge.

It also rejected a development agreement outlining protections for the southwest Detroit residents in the path of the New International Trade Crossing.

The land transfer, put forward by Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, called for a $1.4 million payment to the city from the Canadian government for the properties where the proposed bridge between the city’s Delray area and Windsor in Canada is to be built.

District 7 Councilman Gabe Leland said he believes it’s the council’s responsibility “to fight for a better deal.”

“We’re a great American city and all we can net over there is $1.4 million? There’s no justification,” Leland said after the meeting, adding while he’s not aware of any appraisals done of the parcels he’s certain the city is getting shortchanged.

Orr initially put the proposal before the council in July, but decided to delay it as discussions continued over a benefits agreement that was acceptable to the council and community.

Under the state’s Emergency Manager law, the council has seven days to present a counter plan. If they do, the matter will go before the state’s Emergency Loan Board for a vote.

Sara Wurfel, spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Snyder, said his administration is “disappointed” by the vote. Wurfel said part of the deal was a Neighborhood Development Agreement that was worked out with residents in the area.

“This next step is what’s allowed under law and we look forward to discussing and working through this with Council,” Wurfel said.

Council member Raquel Castaneda-Lopez, who represents southwest Detroit, has been working on an alternative with the Southwest Detroit Community Benefits Coalition that calls for a stronger binding partnership between the city and state.

Councilwoman Saunteel Jenkins said it’s the council’s responsibility to work on a viable alternative. But she isn’t optimistic.

“The question is, will the (loan) board — all appointed by the governor — go with the governor’s plan or our plan,” she said.

If the council does not submit its own plan, Orr will override the no vote and approve the deal, Detroit COO Gary Brown said Tuesday.

In recent days, a second offer to buy the parcels surfaced from Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun. The billionaire said he would pay the city $1.5 million for the land, and another $1 million as a “contribution” to improve and develop the neighborhood.

The offer was submitted to council members and Mayor Mike Duggan on Friday, but didn’t garner much discussion.

Residents have been trying for months to get so-called community benefits written into the agreement, hoping to target the aged, industrial neighborhood for improvements with the bridge deal.

On Tuesday, several reiterated concerns of the struggling neighborhood.

“We need to give them honor and respect when we make these land deals,” Scott Brines, president of the Southwest Detroit Community Benefits Coalition said.

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