Community stakeholders deserve a seat at the table

In most cities, development decisions are made in backroom deals between developers and quasi-public agencies avoiding transparency and accountability required of elected bodies. While developers make a hefty profit, local residents see little return on their investment. In some cases, neighborhoods are harmed by displacement, traffic congestion, loss of public space and other negative impacts.

The involvement of local residents is the key difference between the competing Detroit proposals. In Proposal B, seven of nine Neighborhood Advisory Committee members are chosen by the Planning Department and City Council. Instead of creating a new dynamic, Proposal B reinforces the status quo.

Proposal A codifies the model that has been used so successfully in other cities. Neighborhoods organize, identify needs, and choose representatives to negotiate with the developer.

The overwhelming experience is that legally binding Community Benefit Agreements (CBAs) negotiated between communities and developers are much stronger than city negotiated development agreements.

Across the country, hundreds of development agreements are negotiated by local officials each year. City officials regularly include aspirational goals for local benefits. Detroit’s examples (Marathon Petroleum, etc.) are similar to the experiences in other places. Few developers are sanctioned for failing to meet goals.

CBAs as defined in Proposal A are contracts with provisions for community monitoring and enforcement. Contrary to Councilman Benson’s contention that costly litigation will ensue, CBAs have yielded strong results with no litigation.

Strong community engagement in a CBA campaign is the essential difference between the old and new models of development. Strong community engagement ensures that local taxpayers get a measureable return on their investment in these projects.

Proposal A has it. Proposal B doesn’t.

John Goldstein, Newark, NJ