Monday November 30th, 2015 7:20PM

Gainesville City Council likes the idea of land bank authority

By B.J. Williams News Director
GAINESVILLE - Saying now is the right time, Gainesville City Council appears ready to move forward with the formation of a land bank authority.

Council members heard from two land bank authority experts at a work session Thursday afternoon. Sara Toering, an attorney with the Project on Affordable Housing and Community Development at Emory Law School led the discussion. Mara Register, the Assistant to the City Manager of Valdosta, joined the discussion via Skype; Valdosta and Lowndes County operate a land bank authority in the south Georgia city.

Essentially, a land bank authority gives a city and partnering county the ability to clear a municipality of abandoned, foreclosed or tax delinquent properties. A land bank may purchase the property or receive it through donation, and the buildings on said properties can either be refurbished or destroyed. In either case, the goal is to return property to the tax roll.

Currently, there are 15 land bank authorities in the state of Georgia.

Toering spent almost an hour reviewing with Council the benefits of creating a land bank authority, and Register explained how the formation of an authority in Valdosta has ridded her city of hundreds of blighted properties.

City Planning Director Rusty Ligon and his staff have been working since the first quarter of 2013 on a housing inventory for Gainesville, searching to see which houses may be viable for land bank acquisition.

"It's only a 'windshield' survey, so we have city staff out and they are taking pictures of every single house," said Ligon. "They're also documenting the exterior conditions of all the houses from the roof to the walls to the foundation - condition of the property overall."

Ligon estimated there are 7,000 residential properties in the city.

He said if all goes as planned, then the Gainesville land bank authority could be ready to go by fall. But, in order to comply with the 2012 Georgia Land Bank Act, the city will have to partner with Hall County to create such an authority.
Despite tension on other matters between the city and county, Ligon said he feels sure the county will be on board with partnering on a land bank authority.

"Much of the county staff is up to speed with land bank authorities and how they can benefit, so I see it as a positive and I think they would be happy to work with us."

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