Bill addresses vacated land

Land bank would rehabilitate property and sell it to individuals, developers

Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Deb Gross is proposing the creation of a land bank for the city of Pittsburgh, a mechanism that could streamline the process of redeveloping tax-delinquent land, parcels that are often the blighted eyesores of communities.

On Tuesday, Ms. Gross introduced a bill to create the legal framework for the Pittsburgh Land Bank, which would be an entity separate from the city with a board of directors appointed by Mayor Bill Peduto and city council. The legislation is a work in progress because Ms. Gross wants to get community input on many of the program's details.

Under the state law, land banks have the ability to capture about half of the money collected from penalties on tax-delinquent parcels when they're sold through a treasurer's sale. The land bank can use that money and other capital to purchase and rehabilitate other tax-delinquent parcels.

They can then turn around and sell those parcels to individuals or developers, allowing for a more deliberate approach to redeveloping land.

In a news release, Ms. Gross said a land bank is an ideal tool to deal with the city's thousands of distressed properties. The existing process of "land-recycling," or turning tax-delinquent eyesores into productive development, is piecemeal.

Ms. Gross said a land bank would radically transform how tax-delinquent properties that end up in the city's hands are sold back to the community for development. The process is so cumbersome, she said, that it would take around 60 years for the city to clear the 7,000 to 8,000 parcels it now owns.

"The city's current process is difficult at best and takes even well-staffed community development corporations 18 months to 24 months to get titles to parcels that they would like to have some reuse for," she said.

A fully staffed land bank could turn city-owned parcels -- which have to be maintained by the public works -- back over to individuals, developers or community groups at a much higher volume and on a faster timeline, she said.

In 2012, the state Legislature passed the State Land Bank Act, which allowed for the creation of land banks. Since the passage of the law, Westmoreland County, Dauphin County and Philadelphia have created land banks.

Pittsburgh's land bank could take many forms. It could be a subsidiary of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, or it could be its own authority.

It's also unclear where it would get its startup funding, though it's possible that foundations and the city could pitch in.

Councilman Ricky Burgess proposed a similar measure in 2012, but that legislation was shelved.

Moriah Balingit: or 412-263-2533. Twitter: @MoriahBee. First Published January 14, 2014 1:01 PM

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