Reprinted from Post Journal 9/1/11
The state and county legislatures have given the green light for a new way of rehabilitating local property.
At the end of July, Chautauqua County legislators approved a resolution that gave a nod to the aim of land banking, and promised a sum of money for that purpose. County planning officials have been tasked with hammering out what such a plan would look like for the county – and they face a potential competition for resources throughout the state.
Approved in Mayville by a vote of 22 legislators to three, it redefines the existing Chautauqua County Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization Trust Fund as “seed money” to facilitate the development of a land bank in Chautauqua County. It adds “the Department of Planning and Economic Development is requested to make recommendations regarding the feasibility of establishing a land bank corporation pursuant to the pending state legislation, or utilizing other models to establish a land bank.”
The move followed the passage of official statewide recognition of the concept in New York’s Senate and Assembly.
“Land banks will finally give local authorities the much-needed ability to take community redevelopment into their own hands,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said upon signing the legislation into law.
“Abandoned buildings and properties have brought blight and desolation to many communities. This legislation will allow for new economic development projects and improve neighborhoods across New York state. I included the creation of land banks in my urban agenda as a way to help transform our struggling urban communities.”
In Jamestown, county planners – and their allies in neighborhood revitalization – have expressed their desire to move swiftly to remain at the head of the pack.
Pete Lombardi, director of neighborhood initiatives at the Jamestown Renaissance Corporation, said the county has raised up its $150,000 to help establish a land bank in Chautauqua County.
“There is funding in place, the state is allowing this to go forward, and now it’s a matter of deciding exactly how this will work in Chautauqua County if the state grants us a land bank,” he said.
He added land banking can be designed so that there are “satisfactory ends” for those sort of properties that are within the scope of repair, and the bank can leverage money from various sources to bulk up demolition efforts in Jamestown. Lombardi said a careful reading of the state’s rules for local land banks must precede any attempt to gain recognition from Albany.
Last month, the county legislature’s Audit and Control Committee acknowledged that successful schemes in other areas of the country have diverted a portion of taxes back to the land bank after a successful sale.
Said Lombardi: “This could be a really important part of the neighborhood revitalization effort – if this removes some of the barriers to dealing with foreclosed properties that have been going through the foreclosure process again and again and eventually fall apart and degrade their neighborhoods.”
Mark Geise, deputy director for county planning, accepted the commission of work detailed by the legislature.
“They want to see us come back to them with a recommendation an a type of feasibility report,” he said.
He added there would be additional meetings with Flint, Mich.-based Center for Community Progress. The organization already has its sights on assisting Syracuse with its foray into land banking. And although it is too early to determine how the local effort might look like, he said it would begin as a small experiment that uses its seed money effectively.
“I want to put together. a one-year pilot program,” he said. “Of course we don’t want to burn that up – let’s try to make that money stretch as far as we can, do a pilot and after a year come back and look at it.” He said 12 months of good reports could court foundation support and other streams of revenue to enlarge the program. “Our goal is really to get properties back on the tax rolls.” County Planning Director Bill Daly. He added that a variety of factors cause neighborhood blight, “but at least we will have something with teeth that will allow a concerted effort … to keeping picking them away one at a time.”
TEN TEST CASES
Daly, who was a voice in the advisory committee that secured the neighborhood revitalization trust fund, said he was enthusiastic to see the money channeled into a promising program.
“We acted with our resolution to actually start the process, so we are way ahead of mostly everybody on that. We’ve got $150,000 of the trust fund … to help fund the land bank.”
Geise said he is moving forward with the understanding that 10 test cases throughout the state will receive recognition from Albany. He said the application process should begins within six months.
The county plan will have to pass via resolution among its own legislature. Afterward, the state will have to approve its incorporation as a governmental entity.
“There is no guarantee we will be one of the ten,” Geise said. “But at the same time that doesn’t necessary mean we can’t do it either – it just means that maybe we aren’t entitled to all of the privileges the chosen 10 are.”
Updating city of Jamestown officials, Lombardi said the reality of land banking is closer than ever before.
“We are going in the right direction. we have some money set aside. we have some community interest. We already have one resolution at the county and hopefully there will be a second to approve its existence.”
By Jason Rodriguez