Lackawanna County Commissioners Introduce Land Bank Ordinance
On June 4, thetimes-tribune.com (Scranton) published an article discussing the first reading of an ordinance by Lackawanna County, PA commissioners that would create a land bank.
Lackawanna County commissioners introduce land bank ordinance
Lackawanna County commissioners proposed Wednesday a new public authority designed to fight blight and encourage economic development.
Commissioners held the first reading of an ordinance to create a land bank, an entity state lawmakers in 2012 approved to cut through bureaucracy associated with acquiring and developing abandoned and tax-delinquent properties.
Land banks can hold and manage land, eliminate tax liens, develop, rehabilitate or demolish lots, and sell, transfer, lease or mortgage properties. Around the country, some land banks are massive operations controlling numerous properties, while others target a few properties per year for development.
“I think this will be a great tool to put our properties back on the tax rolls,” Commissioner Pat O’Malley said.
Lackawanna County’s Tax Claim Bureau has more than 400 properties on its repository list, with approximately 200 additional Scranton parcels scheduled to join them soon, said department Director Ron Koldjeski.
He saw significant potential for a land bank to make a difference quickly by delivering clean titles, splitting up and selling afforable vacant lots to neighbors and adjusting property lines of tiny, useless parcels located next to one another to create new pieces of land that can be developed.
Economic Development Director George Kelly envisioned a land bank eventually helping the gamut — from large-scale development at vacant commercial sites to the Hill Neighborhood Association’s proposal to turn several lots into pocket parks, playgrounds, community gardens or off-street parking.
County and city officials have long been talking about creating a land bank, and much more work is required to get it off the ground.
All taxing entities need to sign off on agreements providing guidelines for how the land bank would operate in each of Lackawanna County’s 40 municipalities.
“Really, for this to work, we need the cooperation of everybody,” Commissioner Jim Wansacz said.
Scranton Mayor Bill Courtright said he supports creating a land bank because it has the potential to make a difference in the city.
The ordinance calls for a seven-member board including a county commissioner or designee, the director of the county planning and economic development office and five other at-large members to be appointed initially by commissioners. After the first staggered terms expire, members would be appointed for five-year terms.
Since Scranton is the county seat with the most prospective properties to be involved, Scranton Councilman Bill Gaughan said he wants Scranton to have dedicated representation on the board.
Carbondale Mayor Justin Taylor said he hopes the board of directors will be “a geographically accurate reflection of all parts of the county.”
While land banks are designed to be financially self-sufficient, startup money will be needed.
A broad coalition, including the county and its municipalities, could make a strong case for gaming grant money to get the initiative started, Mr. Kelly suggested.
Commissioners planned to have a second reading of the land bank ordinance at their next meeting in two weeks, and can then vote on it.
Please click here to view the article online.
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