County takes over vacant Prairie Township eyesores

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Messenger photos by Whitney Wilson Coy
This abandoned apartment building at 4619 Stiles Ave., along with two other structures, was transferred into the Franklin County "land bank" and will be used by the Central Ohio Community Improvement Corporation.
Two properties on Mix Avenue, adjacent to the Stiles Avenue property, were also taken over by Franklin County. This boarded up apartment building is located at 329 Mix Ave.
The properties, including this one at 299 Mix Ave., are not well secured and iare probably used as shelter by vagrants, according to officials.

Rats. Roaches. Raw sewage. These terms and more highlighted the Franklin County Board of Health’s report on three vacant Prairie Township apartment complexes located on Mix Avenue and Stiles Avenue.

The abandoned housing complexes, showcasing what the board called “deplorable sanitation conditions,” were the subject of a Franklin County Commissioner meeting held on July 17 at the county courthouse.

Franklin County’s “land-bank” program allows for county officials to acquire non-tax generating land and transfer ownership of the land to the Central Ohio Community Improvement Corporation for redevelopment.

The three properties, 299-305 and 329 Mix Ave., as well as 4619-25 Stiles Ave. – all owned by Homefirst, LLC – owe nearly $150,000 in delinquent taxes since 2004. The properties have been up for sale at two sheriff’s auctions, yet both times were unable to garner even a single bid.

Prairie Township leaders have held the properties in their crosshairs for years now.

Chairman Stephen Kennedy called the areas “eyesores”, and remarked that he was “delighted by the possibility that the County Commissioners might land-bank a notorious problem.”

The properties, located just off of Sullivant Avenue, together are valued at nearly half a million dollars and have been a thorn in Franklin County Treasurer Hal Leonard’s side since early 2005.

“When taxes aren’t paid, the whole community suffers,” he lamented. “Seizing opportunities like this one is critical for improving our neighborhoods, both economically and in terms of quality of life for residents.”

Leonard’s resolution to acquire the township land, a resolution strongly supported by Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien, received two affirming “ayes” from county commissioners.

Both Mary Jo Kilroy and Marilyn Brown stated that they were happy to move for acquisition, and expressed their desire to continue their partnership with Prairie Township.

“We want to assist you in your improvement,” Commissioner Brown stated, addressing Prairie Township Administrator Tracy Hatmaker. Leonard and Hatmaker worked together to explain their case to the commissioners, and cited a universal effort to help redevelop the area.

“I’m really just here to thank the board,” Hatmaker said. “The land has truly been a menace to the neighborhood.”

The County Treasurer’s office plans on working with the Economic Development Department as well as Prairie Township officials over the course of the next few months in order to develop alternatives for the redevelopment of the site.

“Getting the title to these abandoned properties is a huge step toward turning these neighborhood eyesores back into properties that contribute to the physical and economic security of the community,” remarked Leonard.

Prairie is working with private sources like Doctors Hospital toward crafting a plan for future economic development. Though nothing specific has been proposed, Prairie officials expect jobs and economic activity in general to increase once the land has been redeveloped.

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