Members of the Highland County land bank board on Tuesday heard from a land bank expert about how such an entity can be organized and its possible uses.
Robin Thomas of Western Reserve Land Conservancy told board members that land banks, essentially a non-government arm of county commissioners capable of buying, selling and owning land, can be used for a broad variety of purposes.
Thomas said the guidelines for land banks leave room for creativity.
Land banks can acquire properties and either demolish blighted structures or rehabilitate them, then re-sell them, Thomas said, adding that land banks can even offer up properties for fire training or community service cleanup projects.
If a land bank acquires an empty lot, it can create green spaces, parks or urban gardens in those lots.
Thomas also said there’s a “very good chance” the Highland County land bank is eligible for at least $12,500 per building in demolition funds right off the bat, although the land bank must own those properties for demolition to take place.
Board members said 16 properties in the Rocky Fork Lake area are a priority, most being tax delinquent and containing old and blighted mobile homes. The goal for those properties, according to Kathryn Allen of the Highland County Prosecutor’s Office, is to restore them to the property tax rolls.
The Highland County land bank, formally called the Highland County Land Reutilization Corporation, was created as part of an ill-fated federal economic development grant for the Rocky Fork Lake area.
The land bank was intended to purchase, clean up and re-sell blighted properties in the lake area, but the bank ended up being an area of concern for the branch of the Department of Justice that awarded the grant in 2016.
After months of argument between county commissioners and DOJ officials, commissioners deemed the grant dead in the water last year and ceased to pursue it.
But the land bank remained intact, and officials have since decided to revive it.
Powered by biannual delinquent tax and assessment collection (DTAC) funds, the land bank is ready for further organization, and commissioners have said they hope it will begin working its magic by midsummer.
Board members on Tuesday said the land bank has a set of policies already in place, and staff from Highland County Community Action will likely contract to administrate the bank.
Thomas fielded various questions from those in attendance and gave information on other land banks around the state.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570.