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Clark County takes first step in establishing land bank

Clark County commissioners took the first step on Wednesday to create a land bank that will allow them to pursue up to $1 million in grant money.

Commissioners John Detrick and David Hartley voted to allow Treasurer Stephen Metzger to file documents to incorporate the Clark County Land Reutilization Corp., a land bank that would allow the entire county to speed up the process of returning blighted and abandoned properties into productive uses.

“I think it’s a good idea. We need to get more innovative. With more people losing properties, they’re just sitting there vacant. This gives us a tool to productively put dormant properties back in use,” Detrick said.

Rick Lohnes abstained, saying he wants more information.

“I’m not completely sold on it, but we almost have to do this. I’m not going to fight it now, but I want to find out what it will mean and how it will work,” Lohnes said.

County Administrator Nathan Kennedy told commissioners he anticipates the county would be eligible for $500,000 to $1 million in grant money if they established a land bank, which is non-profit organization that can take foreclosed properties and rehabilitate them to make them reusable or demolish structures.

The land bank is a separate entity from the county and the county would not own the property. However, two county commissioners and the county treasurer are required to be on the board, he said.

“In establishing a land bank there are multiple steps. This is just the first step. The only reason we’re pushing this step now is because of the timing of the grant that is available,” Kennedy told commissioners.

Kennedy said the application must be sent to the state by June 30, but added that commissioners must approve a series of other resolutions before a land bank can be established.

Local officials have been mulling the possibility of establishing a land bank since Cuyahoga County established one in 2009, said Clark County Community Development Director Tom Hale.

“We felt it was a good resource for the community to help try and help both the city and the county,” Hale said.

The land bank is much needed for the county because there is no statute that allows county government to acquire, demolish or restore property, Kennedy said.

“The only thing we can do is we can tear down a house if someone else gives us the authority to do so and they have asked us in a mutual aid agreement to do it, ” he said. “It’s an issue county government faces on a daily basis.

“Cities are not creatures of statute. If the law doesn’t tell them they can’t do it, they can do it,” he added.

Butler County Treasurer Nancy Nix said the cities of Hamilton and Middletown established a land bank in May 2012 and have since demolished more than 300 properties.

Nix said officials created the land bank to help facilitate Moving Ohio Forward grant funds. When the state program ends, commissioners will decide whether to use the land bank or use funds from other sources.

Kennedy and other county staff members met with Springfield Community Development Director Shannon Meadows and city staff members about the possibility of working together on a land bank. Meadows said she thinks a land bank could be beneficial to the city.

“I have positive thoughts about land banks, but it’s not a cure all as we look at redevelopment,” Meadows said.

Establishing a land bank was on the 2014 list of goals and objectives for city commissioners and the city plans to participate, City Manager Jim Bodenmiller said.

Bodenmiller said although the city demolition program eliminates many properties each year, the land bank can help hasten the process faster than programs that are grant-based and have more regulations.

“It’s an additional tool that can be helpful … They have some advantages about them and are less process-based,” Bodenmiller said.

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