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Thursday, March 6, 2014

Burgess, Lavelle propose changes to land bank bill

Posted By on Thu, Mar 6, 2014 at 8:54 AM

Two city councilors proposed several amendments yesterday evening to a controversial bill that would give an independent board authority to manage the blighted, vacant or tax delinquent land throughout the city.

The original legislation, introduced Jan. 14 by city councilor Deb Gross, has drawn criticism from community members who packed two separate city council hearings on the bill and said the legislation doesn't do enough to include them in decisions about what will happen to land in their neighborhoods.

The amendments, proposed by city councilors Daniel Lavelle and Ricky Burgess (both outspoken critics of the bill and who represent districts with a disproportionate share of dilapidated property), would essentially give council greater authority over the land bank and expand its board to include community organizations, among a number of other changes. They would rename the proposed "Pittsburgh Land Bank" the "Community First Land Bank" and would increase the size of the board by four seats (to a total of 11) for "community based organizations."

The current legislation includes four mayoral and three council appointees, but doesn't allow direct representation of community groups (though the board would be required to consult communities on the final disposition of land, a provision that critics have said does not have a clear mechanism).

The amendments would also require that all three council appointees to the land bank board be the council members who represent districts with the "most tax-delinquent and blighted land" — likely guaranteeing Lavelle and Burgess seats on the board.

The councilors suggested a number of other changes to the bill, including eliminating a provision that would permit the land bank board to delegate to staff members the responsibility of disposing of land worth less than $50,000 and another that would allow "community groups to block land sales from the Land Bank."

Under the councilors' amendments, council would have to approve the sale of property from the land bank.

For her part, Gross' office has previously said the legislation is a work in progress, and she is open to amending the bill in light of community concerns.

According to their press release, Lavelle and Burgess will offer these amendments when council considers the original legislation during the standing committee meeting.

The full land bill with the Burgess/Lavelle amendments can be found here:

Burgess_Lavelle_Landbank_Amendments.pdf

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