Jun 23, 2022 - News

Cracks in community benefits law prompt potential for new change

The former AMC headquarters building sits vacant while a person walks in front of it along the street.
The former American Motors Corp. headquarters. Photo by Mandi Wright / USA TODAY NETWORK

Several prominent real estate developments haven't triggered the city's Community Benefits Ordinance, prompting renewed questions about the law's efficacy.

Why it matters: The ordinance was designed to lessen harm from big projects in the neighborhoods they're based in while making sure residents benefit.

Driving the news: NorthPoint Development's $71 million plan to demolish the former American Motors HQ for redevelopment narrowly missed the $75 million threshold to trigger the CBO.

  • Some residents petitioned City Council to get NorthPoint to voluntarily take part in community benefits before giving the developer public money, but lawmakers still ended up approving $32.7 million in tax incentives Tuesday.

How it works: The crux of the CBO is requiring community meetings to get input on influential projects that use public money.

  • At the end of the process, the developer has to agree to financial commitments to improve the neighborhood.

Between the lines: Other developments with a substantial impact on residents that technically didn't meet the requirements to trigger the full CBO include:

What they're saying: These projects falling through the cracks are "disappointing" and "means that we probably do need to revisit the process," Linda Campbell, senior director of activist group Detroit People's Platform, tells Axios.

  • There needs to be a better "rubric" for addressing industrial expansion pollution, she says.
  • Critics also point to the Stellantis' plant, which is under a CBO agreement but continues to violate air quality rules, Bridge Detroit reports.

The other side: Developers say stricter requirements would be burdensome in the face of existing financial and logistical challenges in building here.

Flashback: The CBO fight goes back years, even before it was enacted in 2017, and a recent effort to substantially change the law got voted down by City Council last fall.

What we're watching: Five council seats have changed since then. New members, including Coleman Young II and Mary Waters, have expressed interest in revisiting the law, while returning member Scott Benson told BridgeDetroit he doesn't support changes.

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