One of the country’s largest-ever urban farming projects got the green light from Detroit and state officials Friday.
Both Governor Snyder and Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr signed off on a development agreement that lets Hantz Farms acquire about 140 acres of land on Detroit’s east side.
Hantz Farms is the brainchild of John Hantz, CEO of the Hantz Group, primarily a financial services company.
The project has been in the works for nearly five years. Hantz had to scale down initial ambitions for large-scale commercial farming in order to get city approval.
The pared-down plans for what’s become known as Hantz Woodlands — a commercial tree farm of at least 15,000 hardwood trees — is still controversial. And it could expand in the future.
But Hantz Farms President Mike Score says the group has a lot of cleanup and demolition work to do before they can even start planting trees.
“Between now and next fall, we’ll thoroughly clean up the properties,” says Score. “And then fall is a great time of year to plant hardwood saplings. So we’ll get all the site preparation done, and we can put the trees in the ground … probably in November 2014.”
The group is required to demolish at least 50 vacant homes and maintain the properties per its development agreement with the city. Score says the demolition costs alone will be almost $2 million.
“We don’t get any tax credits. We don’t get any grant money. We don’t have any public money for demolitions,” says Score. “We will pay cash this fall and pay property taxes next year.”
Hantz Farms acquired the roughly 1,600 blighted, city-owned lots for about $540,000. The parcels are not contiguous, so some residents will see their neighborhood change radically.
Critics say the project sets a bad precedent for large-scale land grabs at fire-sale prices in Detroit. Others object to turning residential neighborhoods, however deteriorated, into farmland.
However, Score says opposition to the project isn’t centered in the neighborhood that will host it. He says initial cleanup efforts have been warmly received.
“We’ve been mowing grass now all summer long, and we have yet to meet the first angry neighbor,” Score says.