City gets new power to sell its vacant property

May 14, 2008|By John Fritze | John Fritze,Sun reporter

Baltimore officials will have broad power to sell city-owned property and acquire new lots under a bill signed into law yesterday by Gov. Martin O'Malley intended to address the city's vast collection of vacant property.

The land bank, a long-standing priority for Mayor Sheila Dixon's administration, will speed the sale and, Baltimore officials hope, the redevelopment of thousands of vacant properties by clearing hurdles the city typically faces with land sales.

"We need something that's going to do something in a more massive, aggressive way to streamline the process," Dixon said after the bill was signed in Annapolis.

Officials have estimated that there are nearly 30,000 vacant properties in Baltimore and that city government currently owns nearly 10,000 of them.

Once created, the land bank would be a nonprofit or quasi-government entity to which the city would transfer at least some of its property. The authority could sell the land without the typical appraisal requirements or Board of Estimates approval.

The entity, which would likely be run by a board of directors that has not yet been set, would also have the ability to receive property before it winds up in foreclosure. The entity would not have the power to tax or seize property through eminent domain.

"The bottom line is that the city has an idea as to how it needs to help reduce the number of vacant, boarded-up homes in Baltimore," said Del. Curtis S. Anderson, a Baltimore Democrat who helped push the bill in the House. "This is just one more of the tools that the city needs to try to reduce this humongous number of vacant and boarded-up houses."

First Deputy Mayor Andrew Frank said the city will create a task force in the coming weeks to work out specifics of how the land bank would work. That committee will help craft legislation that must ultimately be approved by the City Council to create the entity.

Frank said the land bank could be cost-neutral if it uses the money it collects from selling property to offset its expenses. Taxpayers spend millions of dollars each year to maintain vacant properties.

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