Prop B wins, Prop A fails in Detroit community benefits

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — Voters approved a ballot measure Tuesday backed by some union and business groups that will require developers of major projects to engage residents to negotiate jobs, affordable housing or other benefits, according to unofficial election results.

Voters rejected — by a margin of 54 percent to 46 percent — Proposal A, a competing grassroots plan that would have further increased the benefits to residents. The prevailing version, Proposal B, which was earlier approved by Detroit’s City Council, came out ahead by a margin of 53 percent to 47 percent.

The new ordinance makes Detroit the first city in the nation with such a sweeping requirement, said Detroit Councilman Scott Benson, who worked on the community benefits agreement for more than a year with consultation from stakeholders.

“The city of Detroit is the tip of the spear when it comes to community benefits,” Benson said. “We are the only city to have a CBA that’s going to be enacted that’s structured this way. The only one in the country.”

Benson said the ordinance will become effective Jan. 1. After enacted, it must be in place for one year before any modifications could be made.

Both of the proposals sought guarantees that residents and contractors in Detroit would receive benefits from developers of major projects or those who seek certain tax subsidies. But the ordinances varied on enforcement, levels of investment and city involvement.

The battle over the benefits plan sharply divided voters in the city and prompted an aggressive campaign against Proposal A. Developers and unions came out against it, saying it would be a “jobs killer” that will drive away much-needed development in the city.

The community-led Proposal A would have required more enforcement and larger investments by developers. Unofficial results show 54 percent of voters turned it down.

Proposal B, meanwhile, will require developers to provide community benefits for projects worth at least $75 million or for those that would expand or renovate structures where a developer seeks city-owned land or tax breaks of at least $1 million.

The ordinance also set a higher financial threshold compared to Proposal A.

Under Proposal B, a neighborhood advisory council will be established for areas affected by development with appointments from the city’s planning director and in consultation with the council.

Developers also will not be required to enter into legally binding agreements with the neighborhood advisory groups, unlike Proposal A.

Benson on Wednesday said the regulations will guarantee a voice and place at the table for the community in the process of development.

“The people have spoken,” he said. “This gives us a road map now to ensure that community is at the table in large projects.”

But those who’ve supported the community-led plan argued the council-approved version undermines its effort and represents “business as usual” in the city.

“Today has turned out to be a sad day. I am almost speechless,” said Angy Webb, a member of the block club association group, Revive Detroit, who helped gather petition signatures in favor of the community plan.

Webb on Wednesday said she’s worried not enough projects will meet the threshold in the ordinance as well as who will be appointed by the city to negotiate deals.

“It’s up in the air,” she said. “It’s very questionable to me as to how they will select these people.”

Benson on Wednesday stressed the council will continue to seek out protections for city communities impacted by smaller-scale projects that don’t fall under the ordinance.

“This council has shown it’s committed to community benefits even without an ordinance,” he said.

Benson added the law wasn’t expected to apply broadly to all projects, rather to be focused and thoughtful.

“Admittedly, we’re not going to get a whole lot of deals with that threshold, and that’s why you do it at that threshold. You can’t do this every month,” he said. “This needs to be done in a very prescriptive manner and it needs to be done with a lot of thought and preparation. So this gives us that opportunity.”