The first of what will be several Highland County blighted properties slated for clean-up and improvement by funding through the county land bank took place Wednesday morning in the Rocky Fork Lake area.
Officially called the Highland County Land Reutilization Corporation, the land bank’s mission is to acquire blighted and abandoned properties, and clean them up for future real estate development.
The Wednesday morning project, the first for the land bank, was abandoned and overgrown property at 10711 Venetian Way.
According to Mark Current, the housing director for Highland County Community Action Organization, Inc.,Banks Construction and Excavating is the prime contractor on the clean-up of not only the Venetian Way property, but also for three additional locations in the lake area.
“This property was more of a clean-up since there is no demolition to it,” he said. “It’s mainly the removal of a lot of brush and trees that really grew up into kind of a jungle.”
He said that once scrub removal is complete, the property will be sown in grass so that it can be put on the market and sold as profitable real estate.
The Venetian Way parcel was a foreclosed property that was in the hands of the state of Ohio, he said, and it couldn’t be sold due to the high property tax debt the previous owners had incurred.
“The land bank was able to acquire it from the state and remove the tax debt,” he said, “and when we’re through, we’ll be able to put it on the market and get it into the hands of someone else who will develop it, make it productive land again and pay the taxes on it.”
As previously reported, land banks can acquire properties and either demolish blighted structures or rehabilitate them, then resell them. They 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 on the site.
Money for the land bank comes from biannual delinquent tax assessment collection (DTAC) funds.
The land bank concept was a part of the aborted Rocky Fork Lake Area Safety and Advancement Project, a nearly $850,000 federal grant to fund a two-year project designed to promote crime fighting, blighted property removal and economic development in the Rocky Fork Lake region.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, administrators of the grant, originally approved the land bank proposal, and according to documents supplied by the Highland County Board of Commissioners, almost immediately told the county to eliminate it.
Commissioners eventually decided to end their efforts at pursuing the grant in December 2018, citing a federal bureaucracy that was both inflexible and enamored with red tape.
Commissioners Terry Britton and Jeff Duncan were on hand for Wednesday’s land clean-up, and Britton said it felt good to see proof that their decision to proceed with the land bank was the right thing to do.
“We have one of the best spots in southern Ohio for economic development when you talk about Rocky Fork Lake,” Britton said. “There’s a few landowners that didn’t take care of their property, so this will start that process of showing people how nice the area is and maybe they’ll want to buy some land or build a house and move here.”
He said one person who already took notice of the benefits of the land bank was the owner of the property across the street, who had retired and moved to Rocky Fork Lake from the Mount Sterling area.
“He walked over and told us right there on the street that he’d be interested in buying that property,” Britton said. “This is going to be great for the community and for the county, and we felt real good knowing that all along we right in fighting for this land bank idea.”
Current said as weather permits, blighted properties located on Heather Moor Trail, Dundee Drive and Cinderella Drive will be razed in the coming weeks. Britton said 10 more properties that are both in the lake region and throughout the county are on the list for future clean-up in the months ahead.
“I think that in the coming year there’s going to be quite a few of these properties cleaned up, not only in the lake region but throughout Highland County,” Current said. “It’ll gain momentum as people begin to see that the program is working.”
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.