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Barbrie Logan was a consistent voice of dissent during the District Detroit community benefits process. The 67-year-old lifelong Detroiter was the one of nine Neighborhood Advisory Council (NAC) members tasked to negotiate with the District’s private developers. She’s the only one who voted against the agreement.
For the weeks she was at the table Logan questioned the amount of benefits on the table and the process itself.
The NAC approved a $12 million benefits agreement with Olympia Development of Michigan and Related Cos. in an 8-1 vote on Feb. 21. Last week, the City Council put its stamp of approval on the agreement and voted to pass along $616 million in public subsidies to the developers. There was just one dissenting vote then, too, Council President Mary Sheffield.
A retired police officer, she’s lived for five years in Midtown’s Orchestra Tower, an apartment building for people over age 55. Logan wanted to be involved in the District Detroit negotiations because she felt a new development in front of her apartment, Woodward West, had caused daily disruptions. She said construction went on at night, keeping her from sleeping, and the street and sidewalks would be closed off without warning.
After that experience, she didn’t trust developers to respect the needs and wishes of residents.
Logan started attending community meetings about District Detroit and said she’d be interested in being on the NAC. Because District Detroit is in City Councilmember Gabriela Santiago-Romero’s district, she was able to nominate one resident to be on the NAC. Logan got the spot.
The chair of the NAC? Chris Jackson, co-owner of the development firm Queen Lillian and a developer of Woodward West, the high-rise that sparked Logan’s interest in being on the NAC. Jackson was nominated by the Planning and Development Department, which appoints four members to the NAC. Three are appointed by city councilmembers, and two are voted on by residents of the “impact area.”
Jackson and Logan would routinely butt heads, but he wasn’t the reason Logan ultimately voted against the agreement.
We spoke to Logan to find out exactly why she was so disappointed in the process and what changes she thinks would make NACs more effective.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Outlier Media: Tell me about your experience on the NAC. Were you given the tools you needed to properly negotiate with developers?
Barbrie Logan: Looking back, it seemed like the planning department kind of ran the whole thing. The planning department had already been in negotiations with the developer for more than a year, and they more or less said, “We’ll listen to you, but we already got this taken care of.” It just seemed to me like they wanted us just to rubber stamp what they had already negotiated. They just wanted to get some of our feedback, but there wasn’t much we could do.
Some of them had been NAC members before. Me and a couple of other people on the NAC weren’t involved much. I just felt like I wasn’t being heard — they really didn’t want my input. Because apparently they had already decided where this thing was going.
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What happened when you presented ideas?
They didn’t want to hear me. They didn’t want to hear any kind of pushback. They just wanted to get it done. There was a real rush to complete the agreement within the time frame. (Note: The NAC had seven public meetings to finalize a deal with the developer.) And they gave us so much material to read — it was really hard to read it all in a week. Sometimes, I would be up all night reading all this stuff.
You ended up voting ‘no.’ Why was that? Where did you see the agreement falling short?
I was most concerned about jobs and affordable housing. The developers said they’re going to provide 12,000 construction jobs and 6,000 permanent jobs. But I had a lot of questions about that that were never answered. Developers are supposed to have 51% of construction jobs go to Detroiters. If they don’t reach that mark, they pay a fine, which goes into a fund for training contractors. Well, isn’t the developer just going to pay the fine? No major construction project in Detroit has reached that mark — ever. So why would they say 51% of the jobs will go to Detroiters? It just didn’t seem credible to me. You won’t do it, you know you can’t do it, but you’re still saying that you will do it.
For housing, my question was what type of people do you want living here? Who are you trying to attract? Is it people who live in the impact area or people from outside the city? It certainly isn’t people like me. They told us that the people who can’t afford to live here shouldn’t live here. I can afford to live here now, but they’re going to force us out eventually. Those of us that are still here want to enjoy the downtown amenities. And the housing in Detroit is not adequate, especially for senior citizens. There’s too little of it and lots of it is dilapidated.
There is an affordable housing component to the development: 139 units for people who make $36,000 a year.
And then there were a bunch of issues we never or barely discussed. What will be the effects of blocking off the sidewalks? Never did get to that. What about noise? Never did get to that. Traffic? They said they would hire somebody to study it. Handicap accessibility? Said they would hire somebody to study it.
They didn’t answer most of our questions, including how this is going to be enforced. Once they build something, we can’t make them take it down. We were told to make the agreement manageable, specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and with a timetable. I think we rushed through it.
City Council approved the agreement last week. Do you have any thoughts about that vote?
I actually think City Council made a lot of improvements. I think that they did a really good job of renegotiating the agreement and making it a lot better than what we gave them. They worked with what they had, and they made it better.
Ultimately, I don’t blame them for voting for it. Many of them, including Gabriela Santiago-Romero, my councilperson, said we need development in Detroit. So I wasn’t surprised at all.
Note: The revised agreement requires developers to do the following: contribute $350,000 over the next 10 years to the city’s Affordable Housing Development Preservation Fund, which goes toward preservation and creation of affordable housing; give first priority in its affordable units to those who have lived in the city for at least 10 years; and award 30% of spending on contracts to Detroit-based businesses.
Some members of the City Council also said the community benefits ordinance needs to be reformed. What are the most important changes you would like to see?
I think that we should have had more meetings. What I would suggest for future NACs, is to start much earlier, way before there’s this sense of urgency to finish. We should have been involved way before that. Whenever one of us tried to slow things down, they would say, “At this rate, we won’t get it done in time.” They kept wanting to rush it. And anytime you rush something, you leave out a lot of stuff. It’s a poorly designed process.
The other thing is that I don’t think that the city should have that much power. The planning department shouldn’t be able to nominate that many people. I think that the neighborhood should nominate at least the majority of the people. Because at times, it felt like we were just an extension of the Planning and Development Department.
In the end, I think the community benefits ordinance is a great idea. It just needs to be updated a bit.