A new state law gives counties much more authority and far more funding for land banks, Franklin County Treasurer Ed Leonard said at last week's meeting of the North Linden Area Commission.

A new state law gives counties much more authority and far more funding for land banks, Franklin County Treasurer Ed Leonard said at last week's meeting of the North Linden Area Commission.

In the first of a series of public presentations aimed at clearing up confusion that has arisen regarding the county land bank, Leonard said the more powerful and better funded Central Ohio Community Improvement Corp. won't operate in competition with the city's land bank, but it will be able to acquire property within Columbus.

In fact, Leonard said the city and county land banks might work out of the same location, once the latter is fully funded and has policies and procedures in place by mid-summer.

Leonard is chairman of the board for the CIC.

"All of this will be formulated over the next few months," he said.

Franklin County has had a land bank for about five years, but it had very little authority and not much funding at all, according to Leonard.

"We did very, very few projects," he said.

Under the new rules provided by state lawmakers, Leonard said the existing Community Improvement Corp. was designated to remain as the county's land bank operator, but with new authority to acquire property and an estimated $3.5 million a year in funding.

He said that money comes from diverting 5 percent of assessments and penalties on delinquent property taxes from schools and other levy-funded agencies to the land bank.

Taxing districts will still receive all that's owed to them from property taxes, the treasurer said, but only half of the penalty and interest they had been getting.

Confusion arose in February when CIC executive director Joel Teaford told The Columbus Dispatch that the Franklin County land bank would not address problem properties within the city of Columbus.

It will, Leonard emphasized last week, but in cooperation with city officials, as well as private citizens, church groups and nonprofit organizations.

The objectives of the county land bank under its new permutation are to preserve existing property values and increase the tax base through demolition, rehabilitation or new construction, he said. These take place in "targeted" residential areas and for a limited amount of commercial properties.

By targeted, Leonard said that means parts of the city or county where multiple residential properties can be acquired by the land bank for redevelopment, either through rehabilitation or new construction. This is intended to provide an "economy of scale" that's not possible when homes are refurbished or replaced piecemeal, Leonard indicated.

Commercial properties would be accepted into the land bank on a limited basis, probably only when nearby residents request it and generally when a developer has already indicated some interest in eventually taking it over. That's because commercial property, so much more valuable than residentially zoned land, could potentially eat up the land bank's budget, Leonard said.

"We'd want to be very, very cautious about going into it," he added. "There's a lot of risk entailed in that."

The county land bank, which could accept donations of property, will only take over vacant, tax-delinquent sites, Leonard stressed. No one would be forced to move out.

In looking at properties to obtain, he said the land bank would work in coordination with code enforcement officials for cities and townships, area commissions, church groups and others in accepting recommendations.

"We're not going to be doing this on our own," Leonard said. "We're not going to be doing this without input from the community."

Once cleared of a blighted home or after a house has been rehabilitated, Leonard said the land bank might sell to nearby residents, but at a fair price based on how much investment went into it.

"It shouldn't be given away," he said.

Leonard cited a Federal Reserve study of the impact Cleveland's land bank has had, showing that homes within 500 feet of delinquent, foreclosed properties lose 7 to 8 percent of their value, while those even closer lose 16 to 22 percent of their value. He also brought up Michigan State University research into a land bank in that state's Genesee County, which showed that $3.5 million spent on demolishing blighted properties resulted in an increase of $112 million in the value of surrounding lots.

"A small investment in removing blight can have a tremendous impact on the values of properties nearby," Leonard said.