DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – A company that wants to put vacant Detroit land to agricultural use may be allowed to buy about 175 acres on which to grow and harvest timber under a plan expected to be considered soon, a city official said.

The city is close to an agreement to sell the mostly vacant residential lots on the city’s east side to Hantz Farms for about $600,000, Karla Henderson, Mayor Dave Bing’s group executive for planning and facilities said.

Bing hopes to present a plan to City Council for consideration this summer, Henderson said.

“Part of it is looking at different uses of our vast vacant land mass with the end goal being stabilizing our neighborhoods,” she said.

If the plan is approved, Hantz Farms would clean up blighted lots, remove trash and cut grass before planting trees, but the city wants to make sure residents have a chance to buy vacant property just like a company.

“Basically it comes down to an equity issue, making sure this opportunity is available to all,” Henderson said. “We could put some language in the agreement where, depending on how this ends up, we could give the first option to the residents.”

The land, located near Van Dyke, Mack, Saint Jean  and Madison Ave., totals about a quarter square mile in size.

Some neighborhood activists and nonprofit leaders have opposed Hantz Farms’ plans, saying they amount to a land grab.

John Hantz, a Detroit resident who runs a network of financial services businesses, announced plans to create the world’s largest urban farm in Detroit three years ago. He has promised to invest $30 million in the project, which is aimed at creating jobs, providing fresh food to residents and making the city a leader in urban farming.

Hantz Farms President Mike Score said tree planting is allowed under the city’s zoning code. But any longer-term hopes of selling fruits and vegetables, for example, would require changes in the city’s zoning rules. Hantz Farms earlier acquired 3 acres of land and planted it with trees near its Detroit headquarters.

“As the city becomes more comfortable with agriculture, three to five years down the road, the city may want to work with us to develop an orchard, Christmas tree farm,” Score said.

Start-up costs are estimated at $5 million, Score said.

The plans have progressed slower than expected as the city draws up agriculture zoning regulations and Bing works on broader land use plans under the Detroit Works Project, which aims to strengthen the most viable neighborhoods.

(TM and © Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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