Councilman Ricky Burgess seeks exemption from land bank proposal

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Councilman Ricky Burgess, one of the primary opponents of a proposal to create a citywide land bank, wants his district to be exempt from the legislation.

In an Friday morning email to the city Law Department, he asked assistant city solicitor Kelly Mistick to draft an amendment that would prohibit the proposed land bank “from receiving, buying, or selling any land or real property in the 9th Council district.”

Mr. Burgess’ chief of staff, Shawn Carter, said he was unsure when the councilman would introduce the amendment.

The bill, sponsored by Councilwoman Deb Gross, would turn over the process of handling vacant and tax-delinquent property owned by the city to the newly created land bank, which would have its own staff and a board of directors selected by the mayor and city council. Supporters say the process would be faster and more transparent, meaning vacant land could be more quickly turned for productive use.

Mr. Burgess is the most vocal opponent of the bill, in large part because it would take council approval of land sales out of the process. He has said the land bank could sell land without community input and has compared it to “carpetbagging.” His district, which includes the neighborhoods of East Liberty, Homewood and Larimer, has high concentrations of property that would be eligible for the land bank.

In his email to Ms. Mistick, Mr. Burgess said the divisiveness of the proposal led him to ask for his district to be excluded.

“The land bank conversation has caused too many divisions of race, class and religion,” he said. “After several public discussions and meetings with residents of my Council District, it is clear they are not supportive of a land bank.”

In an emailed statement, Councilman Corey O’Connor called Mr. Burgess’ request to opt out of the land bank “disappointing.”

“Councilwoman Gross and I have had over 30 meetings with community groups and we have worked diligently to incorporate their suggestions into our amendments,” he said. He added he was not sure it was legally feasible for Mr. Burgess to exclude his district from the land bank.

Mr. Carter disagreed and said the state statute that enables the creation of the land bank allows a city to set such parameters.

“There’s specific language in the land bank statute that allows the city to attach whatever terms and conditions it deems necessary to ensure the proper operation of the land bank,” he said.


Moriah Balingit: mbalingit@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2533 on Twitter @MoriahBee. First Published April 4, 2014 5:21 PM

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