Big Step to Fight Blight: County, city join forces to demolish vacant, deteriorating properties (Columbus Dispatch)

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Big Step to Fight Blight: County, city join forces to demolish vacant, deteriorating properties (Columbus Dispatch)

Franklin County hopes its new land bank will become a model for other communities plagued with vacant properties that — vermin-infested, moldy and dilapidated — sink neighborhood pride and property values.

It is, however, already a model of cooperation.

The deal, crafted by the county and signed onto last week by the city, yokes together layers of government: the county, city, townships and suburbs; the Ohio Attorney General’s office, the Franklin County prosecutor and the Columbus city attorney; local health boards, city building-safety officials, police and firefighters; Franklin County Environmental Court and many others.

All will play a role as the city and county land banks seize blighted property, raze crumbling buildings and court redevelopers.

Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman has gotten a good start on his ambitious goal to raze the worst 900 properties, out of 6,000 that are vacant and abandoned in his city. Meanwhile, Franklin County Treasurer Ed Leonard has been working to launch the land bank, the Central Ohio Community Improvement Corp., which is to focus on townships, villages and suburbs, but also will aid Columbus’ own land bank.

Under an agreement approved on Feb. 11 by Columbus City Council, the city will get first dibs on any parcels within its boundaries. The county land bank may initially take possession, but will hand over the parcels upon request. That arrangement will be beneficial for a variety of legal reasons.

A powerful 2010 state law enables county land banks to absolve new owners of environmental liabilities; this is especially important for redeveloping former gasoline stations or manufacturing sites. The law also lets counties bypass sheriff’s auctions to seize vacant properties that haven’t paid property taxes for at least a year; this will speed redevelopment and relief for neighbors.

The county land bank also can take a big-picture view, targeting entire blighted areas to acquire multiple parcels. That gives the land bank more clout to woo larger investors and more jobs.

So the demolition derby begins.

Columbus already has started, razing more 123 buildings last year. Franklin County, having gotten its ducks in a row and hired a construction manager to oversee demolition projects, recently announced its first project, a 55-unit Madison Township apartment complex that has been crumbling for most of a decade.

Properties that are too dangerous to live in and too costly to fix need to come down. When owners walk away, the public is stuck with the bill for demolition. This year, Franklin County expects to tap about $2.2 million of its funds. Columbus has set aside $11.5 million to demolish the 900 properties within four years. And the two land banks combined will leverage another one-time grant of $8.2 million from Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s national foreclosure-settlement fund.

These land banks give taxpayers the chance to recoup their investment — and then some.

One needs only to look at the Arena District, where an abandoned penitentiary sat, or Columbus Commons, where a dead mall moldered, to see how demolition of vacant buildings can pay off.

Read it from the source.