Lank bank pro­posal gain­ing trac­tion in cities, county

The Standard Journal - - LOCAL - By Sean Wil­liams Sher­man Ross stood be­fore the Polk County Com­mis­sion dur­ing their June work ses­sion to ask for their help to es­tab­lish a Land Bank for Rock­mart, Cedar­town and Polk County to uti­lize. Editor Kevin Myrick con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Ret h i n k Rock­mart found­ing mem­ber Sher­man Ross is de­ter­mined to get a land bank au­thor­ity cre­ated with the cities and county, and his re­cent meet­ing with the county com­mis­sion was a ma­jor step to­wards achiev­ing the goal.

Aban­doned, un­wanted prop­er­ties can be fore­closed and sold through the land bank- help­ing to re­move mar­ket stag­na­tion. While each mu­nic­i­pal­ity in Polk County would be free to use the tool, it can’t be cre­ated at all with­out the county join­ing forces with at least one other city.

“It will take in prop­er­ties, aban­doned prop­er­ties, pri­mar­ily where peo­ple owe back-taxes,” Ross ex­plained at an ear­lier Re­think meet­ing. “Those can be fore­closed on and put into the land bank au­thor­ity, and the land bank au­thor­ity can of­fer those for sale. Pri­mar­ily, what we like to do is get de­vel­op­ers in­volved.”

Ross added that if the county and cities can “get them in­ter­ested in ac­quir­ing these prop­er­ties, and if its an aban­doned home, ei­ther ren­o­vate it, tear it down, or build some­thing new. It’s go­ing be a great tool that will ben­e­fit the whole com­mu­nity.”

While yet to ap­prove or dis­miss any­thing, the com­mis­sion­ers re­quested time to con­sider the idea be­fore mov­ing on. The item was ab­sent from their meet­ing ses­sion the fol­low­ing day.

“Rock­mart and Cedar­town have both been par­tic­i­pat­ing in the Ge­or­gia Ini­tia­tive Com­mu­nity Hous­ing,” Ross told com­mis­sion­ers. “Part of that is re­vi­tal­iza­tion -- find­ing a way to get aban­doned homes back on tax rows, try­ing to find some folks that are in­ter­ested in de­vel­op­ing new homes.”

Ross passed out var­i­ous doc­u­ments such as the in­ter­gov­ern­men­tal agree­ment be­fore ex­plain­ing more about the topic.

“The land bank has to be ini­ti­ated by the county com­mis­sion,” he said. “The mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties in the county can par­tic­i­pate, and all three here are in­ter­ested in par­tic­i­pat­ing in the land bank au­thor­ity. The land bank is (con­trolled) by a board of di­rec­tors. The statute al­lows five to eleven board mem­bers. Peo­ple who have ex­ist­ing land banks that I com­mu­ni­cate with rec­om­mend five and elected of­fi­cials can be on that board.”

If cre­ated with f i ve mem­bers, the board would likely con­sist of a mem­ber from Rock­mart, Cedar­town, and Aragon, and two county mem­bers would serve along­side them. Mem­bers would be ap­pointed by the County Com­mis­sion, with rec­om­men­da­tions on who would serve from each en­tity.

“The land bank can also ac­quire prop­erty through di­rect mar­ket pur­chases and do­na­tions,” Ross said. “Land banks can do­nate prop­erty to non-prof­its such as Habi­tat for Hu­man­ity, so that’s one way to mar­ket some of these prop­er­ties. One of the best things to do is bun­dle prop­er­ties to­gether, and en­cour­age de­vel­op­ers to pur­chase those prop­er­ties. It ex­pe­dites the process of ac­quir­ing them. The de­vel­op­ers have to demon­strate that they have the ca­pa­bil­ity to do those projects through their ex­pe­ri­ence as well as their fi­nances. The land bank works with them to over­see their plans.”

Ross con­tin­ued to ex­plain var­i­ous pros of hav­ing a land bank, but the board had ques­tions. Com­mis­sioner Jose Igle­sias men­tioned that land banks of­ten de­rive funds from line items in govern­ment bud­gets, and he demon­strated con­cern that the cost would be an ex­pense for the county.

“That’s what I would see as seed money,” Ross replied. “Once it gets es­tab­lished -there’s a nearby land bank that gen­er­ated $100,000 re­cently. In the be­gin­ning, it could be an ex­pense to the county, but I think it would be nom­i­nal.”

“Give us a minute to just kind of go over it and look at it, and then we’ll get back to you,” county chair­per­son Jen­nifer Hulsey said.

While dis­cus­sions were on­go­ing about the Land Bank at the county’s work ses­sion, the Cedar­town City Com­mis­sion was also bring­ing up the is­sue.

Cedar­town City Man­ager Bill Fann said that he be­lieves there are pros and cons to es­tab­lish­ing and us­ing a land bank, but that past suc­cesses of the pro­gram such as the devel­op­ment gen­er­ated by At­lanta around Turner Field dur­ing the 1990s in con­junc­tion with Ful­ton County and in the years since are proof that it can work.

“The most im­por­tant thing for the land bank is that all the en­ti­ties can put prop­er­ties in the land bank,” Fann said.

Ad­di­tion­ally, he pointed out the land bank can also ex­tin­guish delin­quent taxes on prop­erty it wants to sell, and can also sell prop­er­ties in a col­lec­tive group in­stead of how the cities and county has to do it cur­rently, with the use of the bid­ding process for each prop­erty.

That only comes af­ter years in court on get­ting a prop­erty de­clared blighted, and hav­ing it taken over by the city for fail­ure to pay past due prop­erty taxes.

“It’s pretty com­pli­cated, all the laws, rules, reg­u­la­tions and pro­ce­dures that you have to go through be­cause you’re deal­ing with prop­er­ties,” Fann said.

He added it was an idea Cedar­town looked at when they got in­volved with GICH dur­ing their run through the pro­gram, but didn’t have any other in­ter­est so didn’t pur­sue. Fann gives credit to Ross for push­ing for­ward with the pro­posal, and hoped to see a com­mit­tee form to pur­sue the land bank fur­ther.

Dozens of youth stuck around for fun, games and give­aways at the Aragon Kids Day 2018. Nu­mer­ous bi­cy­cles and other prizes were given out through­out the day, and even the mas­sive turnout couldn’t eat all the food of­fered.The Aragon Ma­sonic Lodge 513...

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