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Dravosburg officials ponder land banking developments

| Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, 3:21 a.m.

Dravosburg officials are getting behind land banking research and program development initiated by regional councils of governments.

Steel Valley Council of Governments executive director An Lewis addressed borough council on Tuesday evening to explain the positive impact land banking legislation could have on repurposing blighted Mon Valley properties.

Legislation that became effective in December 2012 permits the formation of land banks as vehicles to acquire, manage and dispose of vacant properties to facilitate redevelopment. Once established by ordinance, a land bank would be considered a public body that could work with municipalities on property transfers and tax exoneration.

Steel Valley, Twin Rivers and Turtle Creek Valley councils of governments have been researching the potential benefits for Mon Valley properties. They've studied blight and tax delinquency, and the financial burdens they place on municipalities.

Lewis presented a community profile of the direct and indirect cost of blight in the borough. The direct cost on municipal services includes code enforcement, police services, fire services, public works and demolition. There is a loss of revenue and decrease in property value, too.

Those figures work out to cover $2,272.83 per household per year. With 892 households in Dravosburg, the grand total is $2,032,712.

“For a small borough like Dravosburg, that's a lot of money,” Lewis said.

She asked council and Mayor Michelle Vezzani to consider vacant lots and abandoned structures not just as nuisances, but to consider what they could become.

Municipalities use federal Community Development Block Grant funds to eliminate blight through demolition. Lewis asked what the next step should be.

Land banking programs with goals specific to each municipality would help to shape the future of such lots, she said.

“In order for us to figure out what land banking might look like in Dravosburg, you need to tell us what your priorities are,” Lewis said.

Lewis asked for the borough's delinquent tax records and a list of priority properties and goals.

“I would hope we could get together as a committee and let the COG know about the properties here,” Councilwoman Barbara Stevenson said. “This is a great idea that could help get rid of blighted properties in town that are bringing down the value of all of our properties.”

Borough staff could start compiling data to share with the COG next week, councilors said.

Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1956, or jvertullo@tribweb.com.

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