The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

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January 9, 2014

Ashtabula County land bank establishes policies for land acquisitions

JEFFERSON — The Ashtabula County Land Reutilization Corporation (ACLRC) is starting the new year by putting policies in place to begin acquiring vacant properties.

Officially incorporated last May, the ACLRC, commonly referred to as a land bank, was established as a way for the county to hold tax-foreclosed, abandoned and vacant parcels until they can be returned to productive use.

The ACLRC has a seven-person board of directors which includes County Treasurer Dawn Cragon, all three county commissioners, Ashtabula City Manager Jim Timonere, a representative from the Ashtabula County Township Association and a representative from the Ashtabula County Board of Realtors.

The board has been working with the Western Reserve Land Conservancy to get the land bank up and running.

The board has been working on establishing policies for land acquisitions as well as the disposition of properties. The policies were discussed in detail at a work session Wednesday. Board members plan to approve the policies at a meeting at the end of the month.

The acquisition of properties policy outlines all the ways the land bank can acquire a property; however, Robin Thomas, land bank program director for WRLC, said the board may not utilize all the ways outlined.

“It will allow you to acquire anything in a legal manner,” she said.

All properties acquired by the land bank must have a designated end-user.

Properties can be acquired through tax foreclosure, a forfeited lands list and donation.

As part of its primary mission, the land bank will dispose of properties in a manner which will improve the quality of neighborhoods, increase land values, create diverse housing opportunities and return properties to the tax rolls.

The land bank will require all prospective end-users to qualify for transfers based on a number of criteria set by the board.

There will be three disposition programs under which eligible end-users can purchase land from the land bank — the Vacant Lot Disposition Program, Side Lot Disposition Program and Improved Property Disposition Program.

Under the Vacant Lot Disposition Program, an unimproved vacant residential lot that is buildable, can be purchased by a private individual or corporation for market value. A non-profit agency can purchase the land, for non-profit use, for $500, and an adjoining property owner can purchase the land for personal use for $500.

A residential unbuildable lot, acquired by the land bank, can be purchased by a qualified end-user for $200.

A commercial unbuildable lot can be purchased for $200 as well. A commercial buildable lot can be purchased by a private individual or corporation for market value. A non-profit agency can purchase it for $1,000 or an adjoining property owner can purchase it for $1,000 as well.

The board may also set certain deed restrictions, such as establishing a minimum number of years the purchaser must own the land, to help eliminate “flipping” of the properties.

On properties that need improvements, the land bank will determine what improvements need to be made and the buyer will be responsible for making those improvements, Thomas said.

“The land bank states the requirements and the buyer does not get the deed until the improvements are made,” she said.

Thomas said this stipulation will help prevent “flipping” of properties.

Timonere said the board does not want someone buying a piece of property for $5,000 and turning around and selling it, without making any improvements, for $15,000.

“Once the improvements are made, they can turn around and sell it for a profit because not it’s a valuable piece of property,” Thomas said.

The board plans to make a few additional adjustments to the policies and will adopt them at the next meeting set for Jan. 29 at 2 p.m.

Thomas said the policies are general policies and the board will develop more specific ones as it moves forward.

The board also reserves the right to override any of the policies set forth on a case-by-case basis, she said.

All properties will be inspected by the land bank, before acquisition, to determine whether it has potential for improvement. Any individual interested in purchasing the property must disclose what they plan to use it for, as part of the application process, Cragon said.

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