RPC discusses possibility of county land bank
By Sarah Einselen
What do you do with blighted properties?
The Crawford County Regional Planning Commission discussed that question at its monthly meeting Wednesday, Feb. 22. Recent revisions to a section of the Ohio Revised Code have allowed local communities to form “land banks” to deal with dilapidated, unsafe properties. RPC director Michael McBeth outlined what a land bank could accomplish in Crawford County and what it would take to start one.
A “blighted property,” legally speaking, is generally uninhabitable, unsafe, abandoned for a specific time period (such as a year) and an imminent danger to other people or property. Foreclosures contribute to the rise of blighted properties, McBeth said. Foreclosure filings in Crawford County rose almost tenfold from 1995 to 2010 according to data collected by the Ohio Supreme Court.
A land bank is a public authority that can hold, manage and develop tax-foreclosed property. Those properties have to go through normal foreclosure processes, including a sheriff’s sale, so by the time a land bank acquires a property, it’s already been put up for auction and failed to sell.
Land banks act as a legal mechanism to turn abandoned properties to good use, McBeth said, and encourage redevelopment in older communities or neighborhoods that have lost residents and businesses. Land banks can also help in planning long-term community development.
The RPC could coordinate the land bank process, said McBeth, and could use the countywide Geographic Information System to assemble data on foreclosed properties and develop maps.
RPC members were told that the county would have to divert some property tax to start the land bank, but after that it would theoretically be self-supporting. But before deciding whether to establish a land bank, McBeth said the county should assess the problem using local data sources on tax delinquency, vacant lots, foreclosed properties and properties that cities already maintain (i.e. mowing in the summer).
In other business, McBeth reported that environmental reviews had been completed on the majority of the current Community Development Block Grant projects and were under way on the rest.
Seven interveners have filed with the Ohio Power Siting Board for a rehearing on the Black Fork wind energy project.
The county commissioners said they were awaiting a decision on their final offer to buy the old K-Mart building in Bucyrus for the county recycling program. They are also working with an architect on plans to renovate the county courthouse.
Ohio State University Extension educator Steve Prochaska will transition to the regional office in Fremont to serve as regional educator.
The county 4-H coordinator will stay on. Crawford County won’t have an extension educator of its own after Prochaska moves, according to commissioner Doug Weisenauer, since few people apply for the job. It requires a Master’s degree in agriculture.
The townships are patching potholes while the snow holds off. Polk Township is still working on building a material building to house road salt. All the bids to build it came over budget, according to township trustee Glenn Cheesman.
Kate Siefert from the Crawford County General Health District told trustees that the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency is preparing to regulate some township buildings to keep water runoff controlled.
It may affect construction of township salt buildings, she said.
The Regional Planning Commission will hold its next meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 28, at the Crawford County engineer’s office at 815 Whetstone Street, Bucyrus. The public is encouraged to attend.