The Union Recorder

June 12, 2013

City joins land bank talk

Kyle Collins
The Union-Recorder

MILLEDGEVILLE — City of Milledgeville officials heard Baldwin County Commissioner and land bank advocate Henry Craig’s presentation about creating a local government mechanism to return dilapidated, abandoned and tax delinquent properties to productive use during Tuesday’s City Council work session. 

Last week, the county commissioners unanimously voted that advancing the land bank concept was a good idea. The county moved forward with land bank discussion pending City Council approval. 

No official decision came out of Tuesday’s meeting though City Manager Barry Jarrett said the topic would be a perfect project for a joint county/city meeting yet to be scheduled in July.

Craig told city officials a land bank allows communities to demolish, salvage, create open green areas, gardens, restore interesting buildings or hold land until the right purpose is determined.

“It has the ability to replace the old manner, which is just to sell it all at the courthouse steps. It also allows an expedited process to clean up liens on property,” Craig said Tuesday.

The statute, Senate Bill 284, lets the land bank board acquire, develop, demolish, rehabilitate, lease, sell or otherwise dispose of real property.

Any proceeds from property sales go toward operations and to recover expenses.

The commissioner’s city presentation included photos of dilapidated homes on Swint Avenue and Vinson Highway. Improving rough areas like the Swint approach to Central State Hospital could increase property values community wide.

“It’s the area of our town that’s the most challenged and needs the most love from those that want to change our community,” Craig said.

Councilwoman Denese Shinholster, District 3, said people traverse those vacant lots on Swint Avenue each day, which isn’t the safest practice. Jeanette Walden, District 2, likes the land bank idea. Walden said city ordinances allow code enforcement officers to clean up blighted locations and suggested the county do the same moving forward.

“The city has clear code to address those issues,” Craig said. “The county does not and has work to do in that category.”

A working land bank authority has access to federal housing funds, as well as offering more streamlined access to state property that Milledgeville knows all too well. A mechanism to move state property to a government sector is easier.

“Those examples exist and are used regularly. It takes about four years to move any state property to the public. Instead of years, it’s months for the property to move,” Craig said.

Central State Hospital Local Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Mike Couch said a functioning land bank with the right people who understand real estate development offers a quick, nimble approach to property. Couch saw an Indianapolis, Ind. land bank turn dangerous neighborhoods into 1,700 moderately priced homes boosting the community, he said.

“You can get to projects a lot quicker via land bank than any other mechanism I know,” Couch said.

The CSH authority is supportive of the concept for Swint Avenue and potentially for nine homes at the back end of the hospital property ideal for a Habitat for Humanity community.

“A land bank could allow Habitat to get to those,” Couch said.

Once Councilman Steve Chambers, District 6, heard the information Tuesday, he was on board as long as the land bank didn’t infringe on individuals’ right to further their business or development plans.

Chambers cited past property owners turning a profit on tax sale homes though they only put enough into the blighted residence to pass code.

A communicated vision will avoid past development quagmires, according to Chambers.

“We need to put prime emphasis on a vision and plan before this starts,” he said.

Under the Georgia Land Bank Act, counties can create a land bank with at least one participating city within its geographical boundaries. 

A joint city and county agreement requires an intergovernmental contract detailing the entity vested with land bank operation.

The contract would specify various items such as the initial land bank board members. The intro size features an odd number between five and 11.

The Milledgeville-Baldwin County Development Authority is already set up to be the property conduit, according to executive director Matt Poyner.

“This ties in with the community going forward,” Poyner said Tuesday. “This helps everybody out. I’m behind it.”

DA executive board uses four city, four county and one joint member, which answers the odd number land bank act item.

If the city and county go this route, the land bank and development authority would hold separate meetings.

Craig suggested putting an expeditious timeline on the process, while both attorneys advise the city and county on the next step. A local law, ordinance or resolution must pass to create the bank authority.

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