By DAVID RUNK
DETROIT (AP) - A company that wants to put vacant Detroit land to agricultural use is moving forward with plans to clear blighted properties for a large-scale tree-growing project after getting the OK to use 140 acres on the city's east side, officials announced Friday.
Detroit's state-appointed emergency manger approved a purchase agreement for 1,500 parcels of land on the city's east side and Gov. Rick Snyder has signed the agreement, the Michigan Department of Human Services and Hantz Farms said in a statement.
John Hantz, a Detroit resident who runs a network of financial services businesses, plans to clean them up and demolish blighted buildings on some of the lots as part of the Hantz Woodlands project. Some of the properties involved were owned by the city. Others are from the Michigan Land Bank.
"This summer we have been clearing and mowing more than 700 lots in this area, and we believe it has already made a big difference to the vitality of this neighborhood," Hantz said. "And it is only the beginning."
In the next two years, Hantz Woodlands plans to clean all vacant land it has acquired and mow vegetation at least every three weeks during the growing season. At the same time, crews will demolish at least 50 structures while planting at least 15,000 hardwood trees.
The work is part of broader efforts to fight blight in Detroit and in other Michigan cities.
On Monday, officials in the Saginaw and Flint areas on kicked off a new round of blight removal efforts using their share of $100 million in federal aid for Michigan. "Blight Blitz" work began in the Saginaw area, which got $11.2 million, and in the Flint area, which received $20.1 million.
Earlier this year, Snyder announced that the U.S. Treasury Department approved aid to demolish abandoned buildings and fight blight in Saginaw, Flint and three other cities. Funding included $52.3 million for Detroit, $3.7 million for Pontiac and $2.5 million for Grand Rapids.
"We have made tremendous progress on blight elimination through great collaboration," said Human Services Director Maura Corrigan. "That partnering between public and private will continue."
Hantz also has discussed large-scale urban farming plans, but those have been delayed in part as the city works to develop new agricultural zoning rules. Some neighborhood activists and nonprofit leaders have opposed plans by Hantz, saying they amount to a land grab.
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