Last year, a coalition of realtors, architects, developers, non-profit developers and environmental groups lobbied for changes to the process of buying and developing vacant, city-owned land.
A new bill that would create a city land bank was introduced two weeks ago. The bill must first be heard in a committee before going to the City Council for a final vote. The 13-member Land Bank Alliance is awaiting a committee hearing date, which the group hopes will be in April.
With the revitalization of the effort, the coalition branded itself. They relaunched the effort with a name, as well as a website and new social media tools last week.
Alliance member Andrew Sharp, of the PennFuture environmental group, said out of the 10,000 city-owned properties, there are four agencies that act as gatekeepers. The four agencies use their own procedures for granting land development.
"Our theory is the land bank would create a transparent, accountable, predictable process for folks who want to invest inland and who want to rebuild neighborhoods whether that's with a home or a community garden or a new business," Sharp said.
City Council President Darrell Clarke at the March 7 council meeting said when the new bill was introduced, “City-owned vacant properties are a drain on our budget to the tune of $20 million. We must create incentives for developers, businesses and residents to bring those properties back online so they are once again contributing to the community.”
Sharp said now is the perfect time for change.
"We think this is pretty timely with AVI and the tax issue—also the school issues," he said. "Because when you add productive reuses, you're increasing the tax roles, and therefore generating revenue for our city and our school district."
By the Numbers
10,000 city-owned vacant properties
40,000 vacant properties
Sharp said the current process for obtaining land is a deterrent for other businesses and contractors to build in the city.
"It's not easy; it's confusing," he said, "It may take a year. It may take several years to obtain a city-owned property. We think by creating one agency, one entity to manage and transfer property in a predictable, transparent way, that would greatly improve the vacancy and the blight problem."