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Gainesville, Hall look to create land bank to repurpose blighted properties
Hall County Government Center
Hall County Government Center

Gainesville and Hall County are in early talks to establish a land bank authority — a tool giving local governments broad powers to obtain properties that are blighted, vacant or on delinquent tax rolls — and put them back to productive use, The Times learned Wednesday.

Gainesville City Manager Bryan Lackey and Hall County Administrator Randy Knighton initiated discussions to form a land bank, but put the issue on the backburner to focus on a pressing deadline to approve a service delivery strategy agreement between the county and its municipalities.

The Georgia Department of Community Affairs requires local governments to adopt an SDS and revise it every 10 years to avoid duplication of services. Failure to adopt and submit the SDS by the June 30 deadline could have resulted in the county and cities losing out on state funding and grants.

Now that the SDS agreement has been successfully signed onto by the county and a majority of the county’s seven cities, Lackey said establishing a land bank will be one of the new topics that Gainesville will take up again with the county.

Lackey said the land bank gives the city and county another tool to take properties that are blighted, abandoned or have tax and title “issues” attached to them, and convert them to “tax-producing” properties.

“The land bank authority concept was kind of big going through the recession when you had a lot of foreclosures,” Lackey said. “When you have a lot of foreclosures, the land bank authority kind of gets to go first in line in the tax sales. You can buy properties that way. That’s one of the bigger advantages.”

County spokeswoman Katie Crumley said the idea is still “in its infancy stage” and there’s not much information she can share.

Crumley said a partnership with the city on a land bank would be advantageous because “the county consistently strives to work with our various municipalities in order to provide the highest level of service to our citizens.”

The guidelines for establishing a land bank authority are contained in the Georgia Land Bank Act that went into effect July 1, 2012. According to the law, land banks are tax-exempt authorities operated by an independent board with the power to extinguish delinquent taxes and broad authority to acquire and dispose of properties.

Land bank authorities can be created through approval of ordinance and intergovernmental agreement by a county and participating city in the county, multiple counties and participating cities in the counties, one consolidated government or combination of consolidated governments, counties and participating cities.

A Georgia land bank resource manual prepared in 2013 by the Center for Community Progress — a national nonprofit dedicated to eradicating vacant and abandoned properties — listed only 13 existing LBAs in Georgia, which has 159 counties.    

Lackey said the city and county hope to re-initiate talks on creating an LBA in the next few weeks.

“We’re discussing it, working through the attorneys and looking at what other communities have done,” Lackey said.

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