City makes Land Bank history
Culminating two years of hard work, the Newburgh Community Land Bank received word from New York State’s Empire State Development (ESD) Agency Thursday that it has been chosen as one of the first five approved for the state.
The five are: Buffalo/Lackawanna/Tonawanda/Erie County; Syracuse/Onondaga County; Schenectady County/City of Schenectady; Chautauqua County; and Newburgh. Newburgh’s is the only standalone Land Bank organization to be approved.
The New York State Land Bank Program was established by enactment of Article 16 of the state’s Not-for-Profit Corporation Law. It is designed to help struggling cities.
Under provisions of the act, governmental properties that have the power to foreclose on tax liens are permitted to create a not-for-profit corporation whose purpose is to facilitate the return of vacant, abandoned and delinquent properties to productive use. ESD must approve applications for land bank creation and only 10 can be created in the state.
In March of 2012, the City Council voted to authorize Pace University’s Land Use Law Center to assist in the establishment of Newburgh’s Land Bank, incorporated under the Private Housing Finance Law. Once approved by ESD, the Land Bank is legally authorized to take the title to city-owned properties for a negotiated price as low as one dollar and is not required to pay property and sales taxes until the properties are restored and sold to new owners.
The Newburgh Land Bank is concentrating on an area bounded on the north by South Street, on the west by Route 9W, on the south by Broadway and on the east by the waterfront. The City has committed to strict code and police enforcements in this area to ensure success of the Land Bank.
The City’s three major “anchors” are Mount Saint Mary College, St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital and SUNY Orange as well as other private sector institutions working with the Newburgh Community Land Bank in property selection, maintenance, repair and disposition.
“This is a momentous day,” said Mayor Judy Kennedy as she opened a press conference Thursday afternoon at City Hall.
“We have been looking forward to when we could make the announcement that we’ve got that approval [of the Empire State Development Agency]. It came through today and I’m going to allow Mike [Vatter, chairman of the Newburgh Land Bank board of directors] to talk more about what that actually means,” Kennedy said.
“I’d also like to thank Gov. Cuomo and the Empire State Development Corp. for their support and their faith in our effort to revitalize and rebuild our neighborhoods and improve the quality of life for all our citizens.”
Kennedy reached out to St. Luke’s Hospital “for their help in writing the application.”
“All of this came very fast,” she said. “We had very little time to get this application in. It was a full-court push by a whole lot of people in order to get this application in on time.”
Vatter, whose primary job is chief of the City of Newburgh Fire Department, is a man of many talents. After retiring as deputy fire chief in Newburgh, Vatter practiced law for a period of time before assuming the reins of the Newburgh Fire Department during a time of turmoil.
Even as the City Administration made plans for major layoffs to its fire department, Vatter found ways to cut expenses and stave off layoffs. One way was to take over responsibility for the City’s Codes Department, which in turn led to a stronger focus on the City’s growing list of neglected and abandoned homes.
Coincidentally, Vatter’s law degree is from the Pace University School of Law and Pace University is the home of the Land Base Law Center that specializes in communities in need of revitalization.
“As Mayor Kennedy mentioned, Newburgh is one of the first five Land Banks in the State of New York,” Vatter said. “The State last year passed legislation that would allow up to 10 Land Banks to be created over the course of 2012. It was split into two groups – five now and five some time later this year.
“We were fortunate to have a lot of help to get it done. Actually, we got our application in a couple of days early and that got the ball rolling.
“But what I really have to say is that this is the culmination of two years of hard work involving the residents of the city, our elected officials, the Pace University Law School Land Use Law Center, members of the City staff and many of the City’s largest employers and financial institutions.
“I’d also like to note that we received many letters of support, which I’d like to note was important to the ESD in the decision making; that this is a major public-private partnership, that was another homerun with the Empire State Development Corporation.
“We are the only standalone city Land Bank at the moment,” Vatter said. “The other four Land Banks are cities and counties in Upstate New York – Erie County, Chautauqua County, Schenectady County and Onondaga County – with their major cities of Syracuse, Buffalo, Schenectady, Jamestown, etc.
“The Land Bank program was established by the State of New York with the intent of assisting as many communities that are struggling to cope with the problem of abandoned and vacant and tax-delinquent properties by trying to facilitate their return to productive use,” he said.
“Our primary focus will be the acquisition of tax-foreclosed, vacant and abandoned properties and use the various tools that we’ve been granted through the [Land Bank] Act to eliminate the harms and liabilities caused by such properties. Abandoned properties are just a blight on our city; they happen on the nicest streets and the toughest streets in the city,” he said.
“I remember one day a lady asked me if we were going to tear a building down because of the rats that were running into her building from next door. We’ll be able to do this now with some selective work throughout the city to get these properties back in shape so that developers will want to take them.”
“Our Land Bank will be incorporated pursuant to the State’s Not-for-Profit Corporation Law and I want to note that it specifically prohibits the Land Bank from taking properties through imminent domaine. The only properties it can get are those that are tax-foreclosed or otherwise abandoned.
“In order to have a continuous community involvement and citizen input, it created a citizens advisory board to work with the Land Bank board of directors to provide guidance to us as we move forward,” Vatter said.
Vatter thanked the present Newburgh City Council as well as the prior council “for having the wisdom and the foresight to keep pushing forward.”
By ALLAN GAUL