City Hosts Forum To Discuss Vacant Lot Reutilization

With plans to knock down 25 condemned houses this year, city officials are already working on what to do with those vacant lots.

Officials from Jamestown’s Development Department hosted a recent forum at City Hall with community stakeholders. The event featured an interactive presentation led by Lilah Zautner, Cuyahoga County Land Reutilization Corporation special projects and land use manager, from Cleveland, Ohio. The forum focused on reuse strategies for blighted vacant land that came as a result of over 8,000 residential demolitions by Cleveland’s land bank since 2009.

Vince DeJoy, Jamestown development director, announced earlier this year that 50 houses will be demolished during the next two years in the city. Money from the Chautauqua County Land Bank Corporation, the Jamestown Renaissance Corporation, the city and the federal Community Development Block Grant will be used to tear down the condemned houses. The county’s land bank received $1.5 million from the state, with $500,000 earmarked for Jamestown during the next two years. DeJoy said city officials also budgeted $160,000 this year for bringing down abandoned houses.

“The city of Jamestown has experienced population loss over the last 40 years, and we are left with an overabundance of old housing stock that has deteriorated, and has resulted in abandoned and vacant houses in good neighborhoods driving down property values,” DeJoy said. “The community provided input from the Community Development Block Grant meeting (March 20) identifying demolition as a priority program activity to remove the worst properties, but we also need strategies as to how to deal with those vacant lots once the property is demolished so that we don’t create a new set of problems with vacant parcels.”

The Cuyahoga County Land Bank, through the Cuyahoga County Land Reutilization Corporation, has developed a decision tree process that takes into consideration planning, zoning and land reuse. The organization’s process leads to the leasing and selling of parcels for business expansion as well as for urban agriculture strategies such as community gardens, pocket parks, side yard expansion, neighborhood pathways, rain gardens, vineyards and orchards to return vacant parcels to productive use. This reduces blight that will lead to increased property values and improve the quality of life for the residents living in the neighborhoods, according to Zautner.

“It was a great opportunity to hear about programs and projects being implemented by a successful land bank that our land bank can borrow from, especially as we gear up to implement programs that have been budgeted in the grant received from the NYS Office Attorney General,” said Mark Geise, county Land Bank Corporation executive director. “I am confident that someday we will be telling newly formed land banks our story regarding how we started, grew and became successful through collaboration with a broad range of stakeholders.”

Those in attendance during the forum also included Greg Edwards, Gebbie Foundation chief executive officer; Randy Sweeney, Chautauqua Region Community Foundation executive director; Dr. Lillian Ney, Health Care Action Team committee chairwoman; Greg Lindquist, Jamestown Renaissance Corporation executive director; Peter Lombardi, Jamestown Renaissance Corporation deputy director; Rodney Drake, Jamestown Renaissance Corporation; Ron Andzelik, Jamestown Renaissance Corporation; Jamestown Councilmen Paul Whitford and Brent Sheldon; Gina Paradis, Chautauqua County Land Bank Corporation; Mark Meara, Jamestown Community College; Greg Moran Todd Peterson, Bill Jones and Jeff Hollern, city code enforcement officers; and Bill Rice and Laura Bernsohn, city planners.

“We were very fortunate to have many of the very stakeholders from our community that are not only providing resources from our foundations, but the people that are on the ground executing these strategies to revitalize blighted neighborhoods at this forum,” DeJoy said.