MOUNT VERNON — The Knox County Land Bank joined a statewide organization Tuesday representing the interests of about 60 Land Banks throughout Ohio, while also hearing an update on progress in selling a former Mount Vernon fire station.
Land Bank members voted unanimously in approving $500 at the request of Land Bank President Jeff Gottke to join the Ohio Land Bank Association. The association is new, it’s growing, and it will “speak up for land banks,” Gottke said. There were 27 Land Banks in the fledgling association before Tuesday, or about half of the state’s land banks to date, with the Knox County Land Bank becoming the 28th member.
Besides joining an organization that offers strength in numbers through its growing membership, Gottke said it will offer joint meetings — likely on a quarterly basis — along with presentations and shared resources. Those offerings will make it “the professional organization” in the state to join for land banks’ benefit. A yearly conference is also likely in the fall.
The Knox County Land Bank also benefits from added guidance as Robin Thomas works for the Western Reserve Land Conservancy, which oversees Ohio land banks. The conservancy will provide a contract with the Ohio Land Bank Association to take over that responsibility, Gottke said.
The $500 fee for association membership is based on a tiered formula based on a county’s assets. Cuyahoga County, by contrast, is paying $20,000 for Ohio Land Bank membership, according to Gottke.
Knox County Land Bank board members also heard an update on efforts to find a buyer, or “end user,” for the former Mount Vernon fire station at 215 Ames Ave. The property, which the city deeded to the county, is posted on the land bank website. To date, it has received 40 calls and been shown 21 times. There is high interest in the property, with some sincere potential applicants bringing contractors along to see what improvements need to be made that would make it suitable for single family residency. It carries a “reserved price” of $35,000, meaning the city must earn at least that amount for any sale. One creatively expressed idea for the property, Gottke said, would be to turn one of two fire stations bays into additional living space.
The Land Bank approved a due date of Feb. 28 to accept any and all final applications that trickle in. Land Bank Chair Teresa Bemiller requested that land bank board members be part of the ratings process for the applications received, before a final decision is made. Gottke said criteria used to rate an “end user,” or buyer, will include plans for its intended use, intended renovations to be made, overall investment of capital, the timeframe offered for completion, and the workmanship involved.
In other matters, the Knox County Land Bank board:
•Heard of Gottke’s progress in establishing a map of abandoned, dilapidated and abandoned properties within the county that creates a “target area” for federal funds made available to land banks for demolishing such properties. The funds are made available through the state Neighborhood Initiative Program (NIP) and involve matching funds. Gottke’s “NIP target area” has been confined to parts of the city of Mount Vernon, for now, but can be expanded later, he offered. A target map area has also been created but not yet submitted for Howard. The target areas receive approval from the Ohio Housing Finance Agency.
•Heard that a filing for expedited foreclosure action involving the former middle school in Mount Vernon at 301 N. Mulberry St. will be heard at 2 p.m. on March 13.
•Heard that Habitat for Humanity of Knox County is no longer interested in an Apple Valley lot that the land bank purchased with Habitat for Humanity envisioned as the “end user,” or final purchaser of the property. Upon viewing the property recently, officials from the non-profit organization observed “a river running through the middle” of the lot. But Habitat for Humanity is interested in another nearby lot owned by the land bank, Gottke said.
•Heard from Gottke that three of five available lots in Brinkhaven have been sold. Brinkhaven is dotted with dilapidated and abandoned properties and officials there, including the mayor, are working with the land bank to discuss options.
•Heard that an owner of a Fredericktown property the land bank has targeted for acquisition on High Street turned down an offer of $1,000. The owner instead wanted $5,000.
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