Controling the neighborhoods

Some communities use Land Bank program proposed here to spur growth, prevent eyesores

By Jennifer McDaniel Special to The Telescope

It’s a problem plaguing most cities and small towns across Kansas.

In rural communities,vacant storefronts dot downtown shopping districts, andin the state’s more urban areas, abandoned homes and vacant lots stand in place ofonce thriving neighborhoods. Known as nuisance properties, these eyesores deflate property values, creatingheadaches for city officials.

But for a growing number of Kansas communities,land banks have been the solution to filling empty lots and rehabbing ramshackle buildings. The idea involves establishing a public or community-owned entity to possess, manage, maintain and repurpose vacant, abandoned and foreclosed properties. And depending on how a city uses them, land banks caneither play a limited role bysimply acquiring propertiesor a broader one by developing and maintaining them.

Belleville City Manager Adam Anderson said he plans to provide the city council information on Land Banks at their January 28 meeting.

In October, Luke Mahin, Republic County Economic Development director, discussed the land bank concept with council members. The county’s economic development board was interested in the idea, and had seen how other communities were using them in situations where they were dealing with abandoned properties or buildings in foreclosure, Mahin said.

“Instead of generating tax revenue, they never really generated anything new,” he said. “It helps cities identify properties not cleaned up…it’s a good way to get properties into operation. Small cities don’t have a lot of money, and so it’s a way to move property, and get it on the market faster.”

A land bank by ordinance is set by Kansas Statute.

“One thing to stress is that it’s not a magical solution,” Anderson said during a recent interview. “I do think it’s an effective tool, and it’s just one more option to get these properties back on the tax rolls.”

Used in Kansas

Communities like Lyons, Greensburg, Pittsburg and Concordia are just a few that are putting the concept to good use.

Chad Buckley, Lyons city administrator, said the program was established there five years ago. After learning about the idea while working for the City of Concordia, Buckley took the idea with him when he accepted the city administrator job in Norton.

Former Concordia City Manager Larry Uri actually helped him set it up, he said.

“The land bank is just a tool to transfer property into the hands of those who will take care of it,” Buckley said. In Lyons, the goal is to turn tax delinquent property into something productive, benefitting the community. Preference is given to applicants with projects supporting home ownership, improving neighborhoods and advancing the economic and social interests of the community and its residents.

In Pittsburg, the landbank focuses on converting vacant, abandoned, tax-delinquent or underused properties into productive use. Pittsburg officials created the land bank to strategically acquire problem properties, eliminate liability and transfer those properties to responsible owners. The Pittsburg Land Bank, which operates independent of the city, is governed by a seven-member board. Each board member serves a three-year term.

Belleville research

Anderson spent several weeks contacting other communities and is still examining how other communities are using the idea. “I’m still in the researchstage,” he said. “We still need to look at how to adopt policies and other aspects like developing a board. Itseems to be working wellfor other cities, but it willtake some time to review. I do think it’s a good tool, especially if it can eliminate problems with properties. It’skind of a win-win.”

Anderson said somecommunities like Greensburguse land banks for addressingvacant properties and lots. But how it will be used inBelleville is something thatcouncil members will need todecide. “Programs like this helpidentify places to build thatmay help in the future,”Mahin said. “It could helpwith commercial properties…but doing nothing is not thebest option.”

Frequently Asked Questions on Land Banking

1) What is a land bank?
2) How are land banks created?
3) How many land banks are operating throughout the country?
4) How does land banking work?
5) Aren’t land banks competing with the private market, with an unfair advantage?
6) When does it make sense to use land banking?
7) What does a typical land bank program look like?
8) What are some of the core powers of a land bank?
9) How is a land bank different from a redevelopment authority?
10) How is a land bank funded?
11) How many properties do land banks generally have in their inventory at any given time?
12) What kind of properties do land banks acquire?
13) What additional information or technical assistance can Community Progress provide regarding land banking?

The Legal Basis for a Land Bank in Kansas A Discussion of the Legal Requirements and Sample Language –