County plans land bank for vacant properties (Akron.com)

DOWNTOWN AKRON — Summit County is on its way to creating a land bank that will serve as a way to clean up abandoned and vacant properties.

In its meeting May 21, County Council’s Planning and Economic Development Committee recommended Council adopt a resolution establishing the Summit County Land Reutilization Corporation and authorizing the Fiscal Office to file its articles of incorporation.

The committee heard from Jim Rokakis, of the Western Reserve Land Conservancy, whom the county contracted with earlier this year to help set up the land bank. Rokakis, a former Cuyahoga County treasurer, explained that Ohio Senate Bill 353 allowed the creation of county land reutilization corporations and modeled the concept after a similar Michigan program to deal with foreclosed homes.

Cuyahoga County was initially the only Ohio county authorized to create a land bank, but Ohio House Bill 313 later allowed counties with populations of more than 60,000 to establish the entities. Rokakis said Summit County is the last urban county in the state to create a land bank.

“It’s a great tool,” he said. “It’s not a panacea, but it’s an opportunity to match dollars.”

In other counties, the land banks acquire property that is abandoned, vacant or foreclosed and demolishes run-down structures to improve neighborhoods, Rokakis said. In Cuyahoga County, about 100 properties a month are being torn town, he added.

Jason Dodson, chief of staff for County Executive Russ Pry, said Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has told county officials that they could receive up to $3.8 million for the land bank, but $3.3 of that requires a match. Dodson added the county expects to be able to come up with about $2 million. The land bank must be set up by June 30 to be eligible for the state funding, he said.

The legislation was the first of four pieces that Council will see during the next few weeks on the land bank, Dodson said.

He added that in Summit County there are estimated to be about 2,600 properties that could be dealt with through the land bank.

Speaking in favor of the idea were Akron Director of Planning John Moore and Barberton Mayor William Judge. Dodson said Cuyahoga Falls officials are still considering whether to endorse the plan.

Committee members and Rokakis stressed that cities are not the only areas of the county that would benefit from the land bank. Councilman Frank Comunale (D-District 4) noted there are vacant properties in Bath Township that could be dealt with through the land bank.

“If we don’t do something about it, it’s going to get worse,” Comunale said. “This is very powerful legislation.”

Committee chair Ilene Shapiro (D-at large) said meetings on the proposed land bank were planned this week with township officials, mayors and school superintendents.

“We want their feedback and input,” she said.

Also Monday, the Committee of the Whole met and recommended Council adopt a resolution declaring it necessary to renew the 2.25-mill levy for Summit County Children Services (SCCS). The resolution is the first of two pieces of legislation Council must approve to get the levy on the Nov. 6 General Election ballot.

The committee heard from SCCS Executive Director John Saros, who noted that agency revenue has decreased due to reductions in property valuations and other funding sources.

“We do recognize we have a challenging situation ahead for the agency, assuming passage of the levy,” he said. “It’s going to require us to continue looking hard at reducing costs while maintaining service levels.”

Also Monday, the Public Works Committee recommended Council adopt an ordinance that would require businesses that use county roadways with heavy machinery, trucks and equipment to execute a Roadway Use and Maintenance Agreement with the county.

Dodson said the issue is one that counties across the state have been dealing with as a result of natural gas drilling. He noted that industry and business have been cooperative on the issue.

The Rules Committee discussed and put on time an ordinance proposed by Councilman Bill Roemer (R-at large) that would require the use of biodegradable oil for outdoor power equipment on county jobs.

Roemer said he only became aware recently that typical oils used for chainsaws can be harmful to the environment. In researching the issue, he found out that a canola-oil based product can be used instead at about the same cost.

Some Council members applauded his effort, while others were concerned with making the change mandatory through an ordinance.

“It’s a very simple way to say we are concerned about the water and concerned about the environment,” Comunale said. “All we’re saying is the county is doing this. We’re not going to tell small businesses they have to do this.”

Councilman John Schmidt (D-District 2) proposed an amendment that would instead encourage the county and contractors it hires to use the biodegradable products.

He added he was unaware there was a more environmentally friendly product that could be used and said he wanted to look into the issue.

Summit County Council will not meet May 28 because of the Memorial Day holiday. Council next will meet June 4 at 5 p.m. for caucus and for the regular meeting at 5:05 p.m. in Council Chambers, on the seventh floor of the Ohio Building, 175 S. Main St.

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