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Penn-Trafford area on Westmoreland County Land Bank's Radar

| Wednesday, June 4, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

As the new Westmoreland County Land Bank grows, Penn-Trafford communities will have the chance to decide whether they want to participate, a county redevelopment official said.

To kick off the project, officials in 10 of the county's 65 municipalities have agreed to give $5,000 apiece to help provide seed money for the purchase of blighted residential or commercial properties in their communities.

That funding, combined with $50,000 from the county's redevelopment authority, gives land bank officials an initial bankroll of $100,000 to acquire properties that local officials will identify for possible reuse or revitalization or demolishment for green space or stormwater control.

Nearby cities Greensburg and Jeannette are among the first participants in the land bank, but more municipalities will be added as the program gets off the ground, said April Kopas, executive director of the county redevelopment authority. Although none of the Penn-Trafford communities have joined the project yet, local officials are considering doing so.

“Certainly, those communities (in the Penn-Trafford School District) will probably be next on the radar,” Kopas said. “It's a natural fit to start knocking on those doors and start having those discussions.”

The redevelopment authority has used federal grants to pay for a couple of demolition projects in Trafford, including the borough's former fire station and municipal building last year. Authority officials also have used their “Downtown Destinations” website to market some Trafford commercial properties.

Trafford manager Jeff McLaughlin, who formerly worked for Uniontown's redevelopment authority, said borough officials are interested in the program. He attended a conference on the land bank at Westmoreland County Community College last year.

“(Joining) would be very significant because, to a large extent, we don't have the financing to put into a lot of (available) buildings,” McLaughlin said.

County officials haven't yet approached leaders in the Penn-Trafford School District, Manor or Penn Township about the program. But Alex Graziani, the new manager in Penn Township, was the top administrator in Latrobe when elected officials there decided to participate.

“I think where April's headed is wonderful,” Graziani said. “I think sometime it would be prudent to come on line (in Penn Township).”

Kopas said the early funding from the county and local communities will help to leverage state and federal funding for purchases of properties.

The goal is to get the properties back on the tax rolls and stabilize neighborhoods, she said.

For the first five years after a property is bought through the land bank, participating school districts and municipalities will give the land bank 50 percent of the assessed property taxes to help the land bank recoup its costs.

Chris Foreman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8671, or cforeman@tribweb.com.

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