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Fayette communities come together on forming land bank

| Wednesday, July 23, 2014, 1:21 a.m.

Interest is growing in forming a land bank by Fayette County municipalities.

On Tuesday, representatives from various Fayette County municipalities gathered in Connellsville City Hall to discuss implementation of a land bank. This was the second meeting held on the issue.

Last month, representatives from Connellsville, South Connellsville and Dunbar met. This month they were joined by representatives from the Uniontown Redevelopment Authority and the Redevelopment Authority of Fayette County.

Connellsville Councilman Tom Karpiak said since the last meeting, he has discussed the land bank implementation with interested officials.

“Some people have concerns, some were all for it, some thought it is a pretty good thing,” said Karpiak.

He said concerns were voiced that the land bank could purchase property that a developer might be interested in.

Karpiak said it could be an advantage for a developer to buy the property from the land bank because taxes and other legal items would be taken care of.

Karpiak said one individual who owns a property with a $10,000 mortgage told him he would be willing to continue to pay on the mortgage and give it to the land bank.

Mark Rafail, executive director of the executive director of the Uniontown Redevelopment Authority, said it was too early to form a decision about whether a land bank would work.

“We really need to figure out if the municipalities or the county, in general, has a need for a land bank and we really need to do some type of research as to what properties have been sold in the past through the tax sale and what they've been sold for, and are we able to flip them and make a profit,” said Rafail.

According to Rafail, it would do no good to start a land bank with seed money from the municipalities and then have to go back a year later and ask for more.

Rafail and Andrew French, of the Redevelopment Authority of Fayette County, reviewed what was done in the Uniontown area under a similar program and what had to be done to “flip” the properties to continue to keep the program going. This was not a land bank program.

Connellsville Councilman Aaron Zolbrod wanted to know how the program could get the seed money to begin.

Connellsville Township Supervisor Robert Carson and Connellsville Councilman Gregory Ritch were interested in how to approach the school boards.

Under the land bank system, school boards, municipalities and the county must be willing to forgive past taxes and also give a portion of the taxes back to the land bank for a period of time once the property is rehabilitated and sold.

French and Rafail said “good” developers must be a part of the process in order to do a good job on the rehabilitation of the properties.

Rafail said a proposal should be crafted before approaching other bodies, such as school boards, so that it is clear about what needs to be done.

Another worry voiced by Carson and Clyde Martz from South Connellsville are the type of developments that might take place. They questioned where start-up costs would come.

Rafail said it would be necessary to have a list of developers who are interested.

Zolbrod said it is necessary to find sources of funding. He added money from a grant to Connellsville's Redevelopment Authority could be used to research the county property list.

The third meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 26 in Connellsville City Hall.

Karpiak said he thought the discussions went well and believes the land bank idea is going to succeed.

Karl Polacek is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at kpolacek@tribweb.com or 724-626-3538.

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