County moves toward establishing a land bank (Gazette News)

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County moves toward establishing a land bank (Gazette News)

LAKE COUNTY – While not as devastated by foreclosures and abandoned properties as Cuyahoga County, Lake County officials and residents have been discussing the problems of vacant properties. The issues discussed range from them being rundown and dilapidated, to having uncut lawns to concerns about them being used for illegal activities.

A year ago, Western Reserve Land Conservancy (WRLC) created Thriving Communities Institute, headed by Director Jim Rokakis. He is a former Cuyahoga County treasurer who helped craft the 2008 legislation which allowed creation of today’s county land reutilization corporations, otherwise known as county land banks.

According to WRLC, land banks were first utilized in the 1960s for cities to deal with vacant and abandoned properties.

“In August 2011, the nation’s banks, along with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, had an inventory of more than 816,000 foreclosed properties on their books, all waiting for buyers. An additional 800,000 properties were in the midst of the foreclosure process, according to a story in the Washington Post,” states WRLC’s history of land banks.

“County land banks are nonprofit organizations whose mission is to strategically acquire properties and return them to productive use, reducing blight, increasing property values, supporting community goals, and improving the quality of life for county residents,” WRLC states. “While each county land bank is somewhat different, customized to the unique needs of the community it serves, land banks typically have three main functions: 1. Acquire and consolidate (or aggregate) vacant parcels through purchases, donations, or intergovernmental transfer from public foreclosure holdings; 2. Clear title to land and prepare parcels for transfer to a third party for redevelopment or reuse; 3. Prioritize land for disposition or reuse, selling land for redevelopment to a third party.”

In past months, WRLC’s Thriving Communities Institute presented the idea of creating a land bank in Lake County to Lake County Treasurer John Crocker who held an informational meeting for county officials.

Other counties are in various stages of creating land banks.

“In order to ultimately create a land bank, you have to have a resolution certifying a land reutilization corporation authorizing the treasurer to incorporate a county land reutilization corporation,” said John Rogers, a deputy treasurer for the county (and Mentor-on-the-Lake mayor). “The commissioners have to pass the resolution and once they pass that document, then the treasurer has to file articles of incorporation.”

When the articles are filed, the commissioners then must pass a resolution designating the land reutilization corporation as an agent for the county.

The corporation would be headed by a board of directors including: two county commissioners, the treasurer or his designated representative, someone from the largest city which is Mentor, someone from the Lake County Township Association and four other representatives.

The board would then need to approve a code of regulations and an initial plan for achieving its mission.

The Lake County Commissioners would then need to approve them and the means for funding.

Funding the land bank will not require any additional taxes from the people. State law allows it to take a percentage of the Delinquent Tax and Assessment Collection (DTAC); that is, they will come from the late fees on real estate taxes.

“It can be used as a developmental tool as well,” Rogers said. “It’s not just for individual homes, but it can be for commercial properties.”

If the county land bank acquired several vacant commercial properties which were next to each other, it could prove more attractive to a developer than a smaller property, he added.

Some communities have already approved resolutions in support of a county land reutilization corporation. The Lake County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution establishing the Lake County Land Reutilization Corporation and approving the articles of incorporation at its April 12 meeting.

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