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Detroit could see competing community benefits proposals on the ballot

Jul 13, 2016

Detroiters may get to choose between two, competing ballot proposals in November.

Both lay out a process for negotiating community benefits agreements with developers of large, publicly-subsidized projects.

Community benefits can range from job opportunities to health and safety protections. Such agreements are sometimes touted as a way to make sure neighborhood residents see gains from big development in their midst.

The Detroit City Council put one such proposal a step closer to the ballot this week. It was a petition-backed citizen initiative, led by a group called Rise Together Detroit.

But Mayor Mike Duggan, some Council members and the business community favor a competing ordinance in development, spearheaded by Council member Scott Benson.

Benson’s “enhanced” ordinance would have a panel of city appointees negotiate and enforce those agreements.

And it would only require agreements for larger developments — projects worth at least $75 million and receiving at least $1 million in publicly subsidies (including land transfers), as opposed to $15 million projects receiving at least $300,000 in public subsidies per the original ordinance.

John Philo of Detroit’s Sugar Law Center calls Benson’s plan a “diminished” version of the ordinance citizens petitioned for.

“Community seems to be sidelined quite a bit. The representatives who would do the negotiating are all selected by city officials,” Philo said.

“Taking a more cynical view … this is an attempt to confuse the voters between the two proposals.”

But others think it’s the citizen-proposed ordinance that’s confusing. They say it’s not spelled out who developers must negotiate with, and what kinds of benefits they can ask for — and will scare development away, just as it’s gaining momentum in Detroit.

The Council is expected to discuss the second proposal further at a committee meeting Thursday.

Both plans would ultimately need the Detroit Election Commission’s approval before they’re put on the ballot.

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