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City, county land bank endeavors remain in their infancy

Harrisburg establishing direction while Dauphin County hopes to build momentum from Susquehanna Township projects

Next year could be the start of significant economic development in Harrisburg and “unlocking the city’s potential” — a phrase often used by long-term city investors such as H. Ralph Vartan, CEO of Vartan Group Inc.

But much of it depends on blight remediation.

“The pervasive blight throughout the city is the No. 1 hindrance to economic development,” Vartan said. “The city has beautiful neighborhoods, great people and a sense of community, but a ton of blight. I think fixing the blight problem is the key to economic development.”

The city is taking several steps to clean up the problem, including updating its decades-old comprehensive plan and proposing a 10-year citywide tax abatement ordinance. The ordinance passed city council but awaits action by the city school district and Dauphin County.

The city revamped its zoning code last year.

RELATED: Input time: Dauphin County kicking off comprehensive planning update

The latest step is the creation of a city land bank designed to acquire, manage and market vacant and tax-foreclosed properties.

Armed with $250,000 in seed money from the city’s general fund, the land bank’s board of directors held an introductory meeting last month and plan to meet at 3 p.m. on the second Thursday of each month.

“It’s all coming together,” said Jackie Parker, the city’s director of community and economic development, who also is overseeing the land bank effort. “It’s a very opportune time for the land bank. The comp plan gives you what the public would like to see. The land bank becomes the tool that we’re hoping is guided by the comp plan.”

The land bank’s goal is to clean up the titles on the properties it buys — often through tax sales or a county’s repository of unsold properties — and put them back into productive use.

RELATED: Harrisburg officials act on incremental steps to accelerate battle against blight

The land bank relies on the proceeds from each sale to fund additional acquisitions. Property taxes are another potential source of funding for land banks. Once a property is back in the market and generating tax revenue, the land bank and municipalities involved can structure shared revenue splits. State law allows land banks to collect up to 50 percent of the property taxes paid for five years after transfer of a property.



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