County OKs Plans to Alleviate Blight
Land Bank Update
June 27, 2016
Lancaster County approved plans Wednesday to create a land bank authority to help breathe life back into blighted properties.
Once set up, the authority will be able to directly purchase condemned properties and help develop them so they can be put back on the tax rolls.
“It’s been a long journey, but we’re finally here,” Commissioner Dennis Stuckey said. He and other commissioners lauded the proposal as a way to help rejuvenate struggling properties and neighborhoods.
Municipalities — the county has 60 — can choose to be part of the authority, but participation is voluntary.
“This tool in the workbench is going to allow for another avenue of financing, another avenue of assistance that many of the boroughs can’t afford, or just quite frankly don’t have the experience to take it on,” said Ed Arnold, manager of Millersville Borough and president of the Lancaster County Boroughs Association, which includes 18 municipalities.
Under the ordinance, member municipalities have to agree to let the land bank authority acquire a property. They also give up their right to collect back taxes on properties, many of which are delinquent. Members also agree that the authority will receive half of the property taxes for the first five years after a property goes back on the tax rolls, according to Matthew Sternberg, executive director of the Lancaster County Housing & Redevelopment Authorities.
“The financing is going to have to get pieced together project by project, community by community as we get going,” Sternberg said.
Asked how many properties across the county could be aided by the authority, Sternberg didn’t provide an estimate, saying compiling it would be “difficult” and would require getting figures from each municipality.
County officials will now focus on getting municipalities and school districts to join the authority through i ntergovernmental agreements.
The land bank authority will hold the power to acquire properties in a variety of ways, including through donations, tax sales, judicial tax sales and negotiations with developers. It will not have the power of eminent domain.
Properties considered blighted under state law could be sought as potential development ground for the authority, Sternberg said.
The authority will be able to acquire property throughout the county, except in Lancaster city, which is looking at establishing its own land bank.
Leo Lutz, mayor of Columbia Borough — once a booming river town that now struggles with vacant downtown buildings — is hopeful the new authority can help turn around at least 20 blighted properties.
“The land bank will offer us another tool in the tool box to get these blighted properties fixed up and get them into the system,” he said.
The land bank authority will have a seven-member board. Its first meeting is July 28, Sternberg said. It includes the five current members of the board of Lancaster County Housing and Redevelopment Authorities and two other members appointed by the board of commissioners.
The five members of the redevelopment authority board are Edward C. Fisher, Gerald S. Robinson, James Williams, Jim Eby and Mary Glazier. Members appointed by the commissioners are Dennis R. Groff and Frank A. Christoffel III.