Tree Farms in Detroit; What is the Point?

clearing-debris

Patulcius:

News articles of late, such as this one, suggest that the urban blight of Detroit will be replaced by acres of new productive farmland.

A private company is snapping up 150 acres [actually about 140 acres] on the Motor City’s East End — property where more than 1,000 homes once formed a gritty neighborhood — and turning it into what is being billed as the world’s largest urban farm. Hantz Woodlands plans to start by planting trees, but hopes to raise crops and even livestock in the future, right in the midst of the once-proud city.

A less sensational article from the Detroit News says:

The agreement allows the company [Hantz Woodlands] to buy 1,500 lots for $520,000, demolish at least 50 dangerous structures and plant 15,000 hardwood trees during the first two years. Representatives of the project have said the company would cover costs for title work, demolition of structures and removal of trash at a cost of an additional $3.2 million.

Something seems odd about this purchase.  The total cost per acre, according to the second article, is about $3,700, which is not a  bargain at all when one considers the cost to clear and clean up the land, which the company estimates at about $3.2 million.  According to the USDA, Michigan farmland costs “an average price of $4,090 per acre for calendar year 2011”.

Why not buy regular farmland that doesn’t require clearing, cleaning, and maintenance?  Perhaps it’s difficult to purchase farmland in Michigan.

According to another article, these parcels of land aren’t even contiguous, which makes sense since the city didn’t expel existing residents (which is a good thing).

As for the mischaracterization of this new urban jungle: Yes, Hantz intends to plant 15,000 mixed hardwood trees. Yes, the woodlands project will have a roughly 150-acre footprint. But all the trees will be confined to a 15-acre plot. The land consists of non-contiguous parcels, which means there won’t be some new forest “materializing” in the middle of the city. Residents aren’t moving, unless they want to. Sidewalks aren’t going anywhere. Nothing will be fenced in. Those 15,000 trees? You can walk under them on a sunny day, if you so please. The east side isn’t turning into the lush set of Jurassic Park. All Hantz will do is clean the trash and mow the lawns, which could help improve public safety.

So what good is the remaining 125 acres of unused and disconnected farmland?

Maintaining farms, even tree farms, in Detroit might prove difficult.  Some of the locals are hostile to Hantz’s “land-grab” and it isn’t difficult to imagine that his properties might suffer from vandalism or the effects of trespassing.  Is Detroit a secure enough place to store farm equipment?  What about the safety of workers?  Perhaps these concerns are not as dire as one might think from looking at the crime statistics, with Detroit’s population so reduced in these areas.

Is this John Hantz fellow a fool?  Probably not.  He would appear to be a very successful financial advisor.  Or does he expect that this land will be worth something in the future?  This seems doubtful.  The city would have to undergo a major demographic shift for it to transform from a crime-infested rat-hole into a growing city once again.   Possibly Hantz could be working on a means to eventually buy up land through eminent domain in order to expel the current residents and eventually replace them with wealthier ones, but this is also doubtful.

More likely Hantz will get tax breaks and other write-offs for this 140 acres of land, and Detroit won’t see much of a boon from this at all.  All of Hantz’s talk of working his farms with “ex-convicts and recovering addicts” is silliness.

This tree farm business in Detroit will not save the luckless city.

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6 Comments

  1. Reblogged this on Brittius.com and commented:
    Federal farm subsidies. Denial of access to ghettoites and their sympathizers to acquire any special projects in areas of interest geographically and this should sweep from the waterfront to a swath inland. Strategic planning. Future may yield options where development can be made into housing depending on how the tax map is subdivided as parcels and lots. The utilities are still in the streets underground. Maybe, an old septic tank or oil tank will need to be excavated but minimal expense. Many old houses might have salvageable items such as woods and or stained glass. I had looked into Detroit two years ago for the same purpose of real property but was dead ended by their city hall. Other areas also are worth looking into in Michigan. Push the criminal element out, and garner estate sized properties and my true love, Big Old Houses.

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    • Good to hear someone on this item who knows a thing or two about it.

      I’m all for it in a purely business sense. It’s the company’s business (and gamble, as far as I can tell). I was just curious how anyone could make money on this venture; something seems odd about the whole thing and I wonder what might be going on behind the scenes.

      One key phrase in your reply is “dead ended by their city hall”. Hantz has been trying to acquire this land since at least 2008, and Detroit’s city hall has dragged its feet. Hantz has probably calculated that his utopian language about green jobs, sustainable development, community giving, volunteerism, etc. would endear him to a city council who is leery of some white outsider buying up so much of the city. The Detroit government had to be seduced, and it looks like he’s done it. Or maybe the state government gave a little push.

      I’m no real estate moghul (not even close), but without some way to move the current residents out of the area, it’s hard to see how this land would be worth much anytime soon. I suppose that he could buy out a huge chunk of the remaining residents without paying too much per parcel. Maybe $20 to 40 grand apiece would do it, maybe even less. It is a prime location within the city, only a mile or so from downtown. Assuming that anyone would still want to risk living there. But maybe the removal of the low-income, mostly-black population isn’t necessary. Seems like quite a gamble one way or another.

      It will be interesting to see how it turns out.

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    • And btw, Brittius, I’m with you on these ‘Big Old Houses’.

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  2. I think Brittius is probably right, Hants is looking at the long term. He’s acquiring arable land with some utilities, land that can be farmed or developed, a lot of rich folks are buying real estate since 2008. I’m guessing the tree farm thing is just to get rezoned as agricultural or to take advantage of some tax break.
    I expect any wooded areas in Detroit will be more dangerous than a Haitian prison during a power outage, no sane person will “walk under them on a sunny day.”

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    • Both of you are probably right about Hantz’s goals. But between Detroit’s city council and the city’s crime, the venture seems like a major gamble. It makes me curious about how Hantz can pull this off. Not that it’s any of my business anyhow, not being from Detroit. I’m just a bit fascinated by these decayed, rust-belt cities and what the future portends for them.

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  3. I also looked into Cleveland. There was a huge factory I wanted but again, there too the city government wanted to play games, and I wanted to make cutlery and employ people. What was.., I thinking? Not too far from the factory was an old white brick and limestone building with wrought iron and an old but complete interior from immediately after the turn of the 20th Century. I saw so much potential. Inside of me I always want to restore houses like my first house, that was built in 1910. Problem is, I keep having the feeling like these municipalities are reaching out for some kind of bribe money to make the deal work, and I’m not into that. Nobody ever gave me a free lunch in life, and nobody ever carried me home drunk.
    Good conversing with you.

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