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Pittsburgh's land-banking idea requires better vetting

| Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

The Peduto administration and Pittsburgh City Council supporters tout the promise of their proposed city land bank. But serious concerns remain that must be resolved, thoroughly and publicly.

The land bank would duplicate much of what the Urban Redevelopment Authority already can do to get vacant, abandoned and tax-delinquent properties into new hands, redeveloped and back on the tax rolls, albeit with expedited title and bidding processes. Developer Aaron Chaney of Murrysville questions the need for “this extra layer of bureaucracy” and is concerned about the land bank's seven-member board playing favorites. He urges there be clear criteria and limited time for such property sales.

Two of the board's four mayoral and three council appointees would be from housing or community development groups. Bonnie Young Laing of the Hill District Consensus Group wants even more board seats for them.

Councilman Ricky Burgess perhaps went overboard in calling the land bank a city “land grab.” Time will tell. But his call for council oversight highlights another concern: the land bank's accountability to taxpayers — especially with an unelected board.

As we've previously editorialized, the land bank sounds good on its face. But the aforementioned issues must weigh heavily in any final decisions. Hopefully, City Council's public hearing this week (Thursday at 6 p.m.) will properly address them.

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