West Chester Twp. considered a land banking program of its own with $250,000 that could have been used to eliminate eyesores and also for economic development. Trustee concerns have put the plan back on a shelf for this year.

West Chester declines to use $250K proposed to acquire, clean up properties

The capital improvement budget allotment for “land banking” — there was no specific project earmarked — caused Trustee Ann Becker concerns.

“I always have reservations when you increase the size, the influence, the spending of government at any level,” she told the Journal-News. “I always take much more care when taxpayer money is being spent. I also take a lot of care when I know that government will grow. If we start buying properties, we’ll have to manage properties and take care of properties.”

Land banks in the traditional sense have been used to bust blight — that’s the job the Butler County Land Reutilization Corporation is tasked with. Township Administrator Larry Burks said he envisioned using the proposed $250,000 for its own land banking as an economic development tool.

The township could have acquired smaller, contiguous parcels of vacant land, done the site work, environmental studies and other pre-development “leg work” and made the sites more attractive for a developer to acquire.

“Have all that work done before hand and maybe have options on the property for example,” Burks said. “You could do things like that and combine those two sites for a larger development and then the developer who acquires that property would reimburse through their purchase price all of the costs associated with the front end work.”

Burks said “I can take a hint” when he decided to pause — the $250,000 will not be included in the final appropriation the township ratifies — any land banking efforts for this year. The township could revisit the issue.

Trustee Mark Welch he said the trustees need to study this issue more closely before committing to it. He said if they were to employ the tool it must be used “very judiciously” and not in competition with the “free market.”

“It’s not the first thing you should pull out to try to do development. If it’s a tool that can be used very sparingly and under strict conditions, then let’s use it,” he said. “But I’m not at all for the township going in there and competing with private enterprise.”

The money could also have been used in the eyesore eliminating sense — the township is not a member of the county land bank — but that was not the main focus for Burks. He said the township has not joined the county land bank because there hasn’t been a reason to do so.

“I’m not sure where the vacant properties are, the vacant residential properties, that’s what the lank bank for Butler County is primarily focused on,” Burks said. “I’m not sure where we have any vacant homes that are dangerous and dilapidated…. It’s an option we can always explore when we have a greater need for it.”

Burks said the township’s nuisance abatement code has worked well controlling eyesores.

Trustee Lee Wong could not be reached for comment, but told the Journal-News previously he would like to use the money for revitalization.

“Certainly there are projects on (U.S.) 42 we can use land banking to regenerate and revitalize the area,” he said.

A 500 percent leap from about 500 to 3,000 foreclosures between 1999 and 2010 prompted the establishment of the county land bank in 2012. There was also state money available the cities of Hamilton and Middletown wanted to tap into. In the beginning only the two largest cities were members of the land bank because they put up $1 million each in order to collect Moving Ohio Forward monies.

Since its inception, the land bank has razed about 400 eyesores in Hamilton and 300 in Middletown at a cost of $7.3 million, most paid for with state and federal funds.

In 2014 County Treasurer Nancy Nix petitioned the county commissioners to give the land bank a portion of delinquent tax and assessment collections (DTAC) — the usual way land banks are funded aside from grants — so it could offer up the tool to other communities in the county.

Membership in the land bank includes: Fairfield, Hamilton, Middletown, New Miami, Seven Mile, Trenton and Fairfield, Hanover, Lemon, Liberty, Madison, Oxford, Reily, Ross, St. Clair and Wayne townships.

Former Land Bank President Mike McNamara was in contact with former West Chester administrator Judi Boyko — who was recently named the new county administrator — and interim township administrator Larry Fronk about joining the blight busting agency. He also made a presentation to the trustees a couple years ago.

Welch said he would be willing to consider joining the land bank.

“If it can be a benefit to the community I don’t see why we wouldn’t want to join it,” Welch said, recalling some previous discussions about joining. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong us going back and looking at it and re-evaluating it.”

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