Land Bank to start with 21 properties
Prof. John Nolon, a land-use expert who has been working with the city of Newburgh since April 2010 to develop a local land bank, recently gave the City Council a progress report.
Nolon, speaking to the City Council for the fourth time in the past 2 ½ years, recalled the moment in April of 2010 when he and other representatives from Pace University met with 150 city residents.
“What we heard was that the people who were there that night and many we’ve heard from since wanted more efficiency in property improvement; they wanted more efficiency in increasing the tax base; they wanted more efficiency in order to create a better quality of life in the city of Newburgh for the people who live here.”
He said that they worked from April of 2010 to November, when they came to the council with a report that focused on efficiency in three areas:
1) Code enforcement;
2) Developing properties and home ownership;
3) Disposition of abandoned and foreclosed properties.
“The prior City Council, by unanimous consent, approved that resolution,” Nolon said, adding that he was present before the council Monday to talk about some of the progress they’ve made in all three areas.
Nolon said that two City Councils have passed four resolutions, all unanimously, members of five land use study boards have come together to talk about how to streamline the process.
“You have formed the Land Bank; it has 11 board members and there have been a number of collaborations that we’ve seen – with the City Council, with the council and the city staff and local citizens. There’s no place in the region where’s there’s better collaboration going on,” he said.
Nolon said that next Friday, members of the council will be invited to receive the Pace University Law Center’s Collaboration Award.
He said that two of the top people in the country specializing in code enforcement – Joe Schilling and Kermit Lind – spent two days in Newburgh recently meeting with many people involved in the project.
“They have put together a preliminary report that will be presented in January that identifies strategic code enforcement and defines exactly what it is, how it can be done with limited assets.”
Nolon said the plan lays out how the city can discipline property owners to maintain their properties.
A conservation advisory committee will be put together to advise organizations under New York state law that will be a steward of environment at the local level.
“The idea here is to take … environmental leaders in the city and put them in one organization that will be responsible for all the functions of all of those organizations. It will be hugely efficient,” he predicted.
“It will take steps out of the approval process,” he said. “Working with corporation counsel, we’ve been able to do some tweaks in your environmental impact review process so people can get waivers in environmental reviews for small projects where before they had to fill out a form; they have to go through a process now that’s being taken care of. It will be a much more expedited process in place.”
He said there has been a lot of progress in the process on development and approval processes.
Newburgh is the only city in the state that has had its own Land Bank approved.
“It was very clear to us that the reason you came out on top on that competition is because of all the collaboration that had been done by the city, by a Land Bank that had been pulled together by the time the state approved a statute to allow a certain type of land bank to be created.
“We had gotten to the point where there was unanimity among people on the board and City Council in respect to how the land bank should operate. When this new legal organism was created by the State of New York, Newburgh was ready to go.”
Councilwoman Gay Lee said she objects to the Land Bank because the City Council doesn’t control who serves on the board. She said she feels that the council loses control if it doesn’t have the final say in all the members of the board.
Presently, the city is represented by one council member (Curlie Dillard), the city manager (Rick Herbek) and the corporation counsel (Michelle Kelson).
Nolon said the council does have control because it determines which properties are transferred to the Land Bank.
Lee agreed there is “a fair amount of control at the beginning, but once I give you the property there is no control.”
Nolon said that the initial number of properties is a small number.
“If the Land Bank doesn’t do a good job it will be difficult for the Land Bank to get more properties.”
Madeline Fletcher, director of the Land Bank, outlined the properties the Land Bank is requesting title.
“There are 530, 535 vacant properties in the city,” she said. “We’re looking at 21 of them.”
At another point in the meeting it was stated that there are 700 vacant properties in Newburgh. The discrepancy was never explained.
The proposed acquisition area is bounded by Grand, Gidney, Dubois streets and Broadway between Grand and Dubois, Fletcher said.
“That’s the priority area we chose,” she said. “It has the most severe code violations. This area has about half of the existing city-owned vacant properties. It’s a huge area of vacant properties, particularly city-owned vacant properties,” she said.
“The area we’re looking at is basically bounded by Broadway and First, Chambers and Dubois.”
She said that in addition to the vacant properties there are several properties that the Land Bank can “leverage.” Those are properties that are good enough that they can be sold without major improvements needed, giving the Land Bank income that it can use to become self sufficient.
One of the properties listed by Fletcher is a former church at 188 Grand St. Councilman Dillard objected to including that property in the Land Bank.
“Why can’t the city market it itself?” he asked.
Mayor Judy Kennedy said, that “the city’s record in marketing properties is not good.
“Whatever we’ve been doing, we haven’t done well. It’s good that we have an opportunity to do something new,” she said.
By ALLAN GAUL