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Westmoreland County authority to buy, rehab and sell parcels

| Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013, 11:40 p.m.

Westmoreland County's land bank will be open for business next year.

County commissioners have approved the creation of the quasi-governmental body, which will purchase blighted properties with an eye toward rehabilitating them, selling them and returning them to the tax rolls.

The approval was delayed about a month as officials fine-tuned the ordinance that established the bank.

“I've been trying to get this done for a while. It was an unnecessary delay, but I'm excited to move this forward,” Commissioner Ted Kopas said.

The land bank will assist cities and other municipalities that have large numbers of unusable properties, according to the ordinance approved by commissioners.

The land bank will consider retail, commercial and industrial uses for properties as its first priority. Affordable housing, public spaces and conservation areas also will be considered for future uses.

Originally slated for approval in November, the passage of the ordinance was delayed because commissioners Charles Anderson and Tyler Courtney said they wanted to expand the land bank's board of directors.

The panel was to include the five members of the county's redevelopment authority board. Anderson and Courtney recently expanded the board to seven members and appointed attorney Scott Avolio and real estate agent James Watson Sr. to serve on the board as well.

“We thought that we needed that expertise. Hopefully, this will turn into a juggernaut,” Anderson said.

Officials said that more than 500 properties are in a repository of unwanted land taken by the county for back taxes. The properties will be eligible for purchase by the land bank, commissioners said.

The land bank will look to purchase privately owned, blighted properties that eventually might be marketable.

The redevelopment authority has agreed to lend the land bank $50,000 in startup costs for an initial purchase of properties. Municipalities that agree to participate with the land bank will be asked to donate $5,000 to the project, officials said.

Half of all real estate taxes assessed on properties sold by the land bank during the first five years of its existence would be kept by the agency to provide a continuous stream of funding, according to officials.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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