(Posted Jan. 4, 2022)
By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
Local government leaders have started the process of creating a land bank. The first organizational meeting likely will take place later this month.
A land bank, known formally as a land reutilization corporation, is a public authority or non-profit organization that acquires unproductive properties for the purpose of returning them to productive use in the community. Their parameters are outlined in the Ohio Revised Code (ORC).
“Our goal is to take properties that are not contributing to the local tax base and local community–properties the private market doesn’t seem to want at this time–then make them attractive for new investment,” said David Kell, Madison County’s director of economic development and planning.
Land banks can acquire land through tax foreclosures, municipal government transfers, auctions, donations, or open-market purchases. The Madison County land bank likely will focus on acquiring land through foreclosures, Kell said, with some land donations, as well.
“We don’t want to disrupt the private market,” Kell said. “If an individual or company wants to buy a property through the normal processes, that’s what we encourage. This is more for donated property or property that doesn’t sell at auction.”
By law, land banks can acquire land at little or no cost through property tax foreclosures and with a clear title and/or elimination of back taxes. Land banks can hold properties tax-free. They must manage and maintain the properties. Responsibilities could include mowing, making sure the property is secure, environmental cleanup, and/or rehabilitation.
The Madison County land bank does not plan to hold onto properties for a long time, nor does it plan to acquire every foreclosed or donated property that comes along, Kell said. The idea is to turn the properties around and sell them for productive use, whether that’s for housing, commercial development, or other purposes that benefit the community.
“We’re going to be selective,” Kell said. “Everything will be evaluated on a case by case basis.”
As for funding for property purchases and management, Kell said the land bank has a few avenues it can pursue. The county treasurer’s office can set aside some of its Delinquent Tax and Assessment Collection funds for the land bank. Government entities in the county can put seed money into the land bank.
“We will need to have those dollars if we take on property,” Kell said.
Once the land bank is up and running, proceeds from its property sales will go back into maintaining and managing its other properties.
The land bank will work closely with townships and municipalities in the county.
“The last thing we want to do is have a local community out of the loop, not knowing what’s going on, and get surprised by something happening in their community,” Kell said.
County officials have been talking for several years about creating a land bank. They have seen other communities use them successfully and thought now was the right time to create one, Kell said.
“More than ever, in the decade I’ve been here, this is the most active it’s been when it comes to developers of all sizes and all types of real estate being interested in Madison County,” he said.
As an example, he pointed to Honda’s announcement last fall that it plans to build an electric vehicle battery plant in Jeffersonville.
“We are in a sweet spot between the (Jeffersonville) plant and Marysville (where Honda operates an auto assembly plant). Two days after the announcement, we had people calling our office about land for end-users supplying that battery plant,” Kell said.
“We want to have tools (like the land bank) to make sure we develop responsibly and allow for any opportunity to be considered,” he continued.
To get the ball rolling, late last year, the Madison County commissioners passed a resolution to form a land bank and filed with the Ohio Secretary of State.
The next step is to form a board. The board must include two county commissioners, the county treasurer, a representative from the largest municipality in the county (London), and three other members, including one with experience in real estate. Mark Forrest and Dr. Tony Xenikis plan to fill the commissioner seats. County Treasurer Stacey McKenzie will fill a seat, as will Rex Castle, London’s safety service director.
“We will discuss appointments for the other three seats at our first meeting,” Kell said. “Our goal is to try to have a representative from the north end of the county and one from the south end of the county, plus someone with a real estate background.”
Meeting dates, times, and places will be posted to the Madison County government website, www.co.madison.oh.us. Meetings will be open to the public.