Banking On It

Three Jamestown properties with structures on them are being transferred to the Chautauqua County Land Bank Corporation.

The properties are located at 132 Water St., 111 Hazzard St. and 35 Tower St. They reflect the type of properties that are being left over in the county tax auctions.

Along with the Jamestown properties, three from the north county will also be transferred from Chautauqua County to the land bank.

The Chautauqua County Land Bank Corporation was created in 2012 as a means to intervene when properties are trapped in a cycle that undermines the county’s tax base. On Monday, members of the housing committee of the Jamestown City Council met with Peter Lombardi, chair of the Chautauqua County Land Bank Corporation, to discuss future plans.

The Chautauqua County Land Bank Corporation was one of five land banks created last year in New York along with ones in Erie, Onadaga and Schenectady counties and the city of Newburg. The business plan that was submitted along with the application called for a “starting small” approach, beginning with the acquisition of roughly six properties and doing various things with those parcels. The plan is to expand in coming years as the idea and funding sources mature.

“I think that the land bank is a tremendous idea – even if it does take a few years to gain momentum,” said Paul Whitford, D-Ward VI.

“The property on 132 Water St. is a property that was in the tax auction in 2011 and no one bought it, so it has just been rattling around in the county’s property inventory,” said Lombardi. “It just sits there until the next auction comes along if it doesn’t burn down or collapse in the mean time. It was left over after the 2012 auction, so it seemed like a natural fit to transfer to the land bank with the goal of demolishing it.”

The Water Street property will be demolished using a portion of the seed money that the county had given to the land bank when it was created. The land bank is also interested in partnering with the city of Jamestown so that there is an opportunity to use some Community Development Block Grant funding for demolitions as well.

According to Lombardi, the goal is to eventually have some properties transferred to the land bank that are valuable enough to create a revenue stream. As those are sold by the land bank, that revenue will be used to demolish other properties. The three properties located in the north county are in better condition than the properties in Jamestown, so they are potentially stronger revenue generators for the land bank.

“Because demolitions are expensive in New York, we’ll have to start out with a limited number and see how much revenue can be generated by selling properties that are in better condition,” said Lombardi. “If the revenue isn’t sufficient, then we’ll have to find other sources. We’re looking into some philanthropic sources for targeted demolition funding, and there are also some questions that we have for New York state to gauge their interest in providing funds for targeted demolitions and other activities. The law that was passed didn’t have any money attached to it. It allowed local governments to create land banks, but we would like to see the state provide some resources to help move this model along. In the meantime, we will be doing limited demolition as we test the revenue potential of other properties.”

Currently, the goal of the land bank is to find developers for properties that they feel are in good enough condition to maintain. The primary focus will be to sell the property to developers whose goals are in line with the community’s goals.

“The important thing here with the land bank is that there is discretion,” said Lombardi. “The land bank can evaluate proposals based on how they align with the priorities for the community.”

There has also been talk of the land bank partnering with Buffalo ReUse, a company that salvages materials from the homes in order to reduce the amount of material going to the landfill. If the land bank were to partner with with Buffalo ReUse, it could reduce landfill costs, thereby reducing demolition costs.

“By establishing that relationship and then utilizing it in the future, it could be a way of reducing our costs,” said Lombardi. “The relationship that we could establish isn’t so much the deconstruction of homes, which is what they’re most well known for, but it would be salvaging materials from homes and having them demolished by regular means.”

Members from Buffalo ReUse were given a tour of the city to give them a flavor for the housing stock and were impressed and felt that there was business to be done here, according to Lombardi. He also felt that since the land bank is starting off at an experimental level here, they can use the first batch of properties to try to gauge the potential to use Buffalo ReUse on local projects.

“We’re going to be starting off small, testing the model,” Lombardi continued. “We are already hooked into a consortium of the other land banks in New York to share tips and strategies, so as these other communities get to work on land banking we can learn from each other.”