Officials consider creating land bank for vacant lots

Warren has about 320 properties listed on its land bank.
NILES -- City officials are looking at creating a land bank to put vacant lots back into use.
At the request of Councilman Steve Papalas, D-at-large, Law Director Terry Dull was looking for ways to recoup the city's demolition costs.
While in the county treasurer's office, Dull was directed to the Warren Community Development Department, which operates a land bank as a way to control its vacant lots.
Dull told lawmakers this week that he is trying to arrange a meeting of city council with Michael Keys, director of Warren's development department.
Warren has 320 properties listed in its land bank, which it has operated since 1998.
Papalas expressed concern about the number of vacant Niles lots, created because of the increased number of condemned houses being razed. The city has demolished 62 structures since 1998, and little is being done with the land.
Keys said it takes about a year to 18 months for Warren to get control of vacant lots.
Because they are too small to build a house on, Keys explained, most of Warren's lots are purchased by an adjacent neighbor and used to build a home addition or turned into a garden.
The process
Keys explained Friday that the process begins when the county treasurer's office forecloses on properties because of failure to pay property taxes.
The property is put up at sheriff's sale by the treasurer. If it isn't purchased after two auctions, it is forfeited to the state.
All liens are wiped off the deed, except for the property taxes. The property is then transferred to the city at a county auditor's sale and placed on the land bank list of available properties.
The lots are sold by the city for 5 per front footage, Keys explained. They can't be used to build on because the city requires a minimum 60-foot frontage.
He recalls, however, that one person bought five adjoining lots and built a house.
Most of the frontages in Warren, Keys said, are between 30 and 40 feet of frontage.
Of the sale price, 150 goes to the city for maintaining the property -- such as mowing the grass -- until a buyer is found, with the balance for paying on the property tax.
Each lot sold by the city can't be resold for five years, and there is a five-lot limit to a buyer to discourage out-of-town speculators, Keys said.
"It goes in spurts," Keys said of the number of sales, noting his office handles about two per month.

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