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Editorial: Land bank program continues to prove its value to the city

Nov. 26, 2012 @ 10:43 PM

One of the original pieces of Huntington’s home-rule plan as part of a state pilot project continues to be a shining example of progress.

The latest sign of the city land bank program’s ongoing success came earlier this month, when the Huntington Urban Renewal Authority purchased tax liens to 85 properties during Cabell County’s annual auction of delinquent properties. Purchasing the tax liens is HURA’s first step in a process aimed at reducing the number of dilapidated properties in the city and returning them to productive use and back on the tax rolls.

The land bank program isn’t part of the home-rule program any more because one aspect of it had to be altered and the process has now become part of state law available to all West Virginia cities. But a look at its track record suggests the idea continues to be viable and is an important tool for Huntington as it strives to trigger redevelopment of rundown properties.

Since the land bank program began four years ago, HURA has purchased more than 700 tax liens using a $1.5 million line of credit from a local bank. If the owner chooses not to redeem the property after 18 months, HURA takes ownership of the property and puts it up for sale. In the meantime, HURA uses the interest money it collects from the liens to help pay down its line of credit, board up or demolish property. It sells the property it acquires to people who submit residential redevelopment plans in advance.

Currently, HURA owns 131 pieces of property. The agency has sold 31 properties and has contracts to sell eight more.

Some of them were vacant lots that were sold to adjacent property owners, thus adding to the value of those owners’ property. Others were structures that were rehabilitated by developers or demolished to make way for something new.

Of the properties now under contract, one in Fairfield West is intended for sale to the Housing Development Corp., which will use it to build a 40-unit affordable townhouse complex for seniors. The senior complex is part of a plan to raze the Northcott Court public housing complex along Hal Greer Boulevard, thus opening up the Northcott property for commercial development.

The land bank program also had a hand in a joint city project with the National Guard and the state’s Division of Highways this summer in which 54 dilapidated structures were demolished in a month’s time. That was likely the most sizable dent ever in the number of run-down properties in the city in such a short time. Proceeds from the land bank program paid $170,000 for the cost of tearing down half of those structures.

The land bank program remains a work in progress and its full effect won’t be seen for years. But it’s already shaping up as a vital mechanism as the city struggles to rid itself of unsightly properties and open them up for new development.

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