Board members of Pittsburgh’s economic development agency voted Thursday to transfer more than a dozen publicly owned properties to the city land bank for redevelopment, continuing the blight-fighting agency’s recent momentum.
The 17 properties, intended to be used for projects ranging from an urban farm in the city’s Allentown neighborhood to a playground expansion in Hazelwood, are some of the roughly 150 that Pittsburgh Land Bank officials said last week they plan to redevelop over the next three years with about $3.5 million in federal COVID-19 stimulus funds.
Some of the properties to be transferred have been owned by the Urban Redevelopment Authority since the 1980s. Five properties are owned by the city, according to real estate records, and it was not immediately clear if or when the properties would first be moved to the URA before they ultimately head to the land bank.
M.L. Meier, the URA’s real estate director, said at Thursday afternoon’s URA board meeting that the properties and their proposed uses are emblematic of “the types of neighborhood-scale developments that the land bank was designed to support.” The land bank is meant to acquire vacant or abandoned properties and clear old tax liabilities then get them back on the open market for community-minded redevelopment.
Councilor Barb Warwick, D-Greenfield, previously expressed skepticism about the land bank but said the properties offered a good test case for the kind of work that the land bank can do.
“I’m excited to see how this process moves forward,” she said.
The land bank board must vote to acquire the properties from the URA, likely at its next meeting on Oct. 13, which will then begin its sale process. It was not immediately clear whether a given property would go through a competitive or noncompetitive process.
The land bank could run into issues with selling any properties it acquires since no deal has been reached with the so-called “three taxing bodies” — the city, Pittsburgh Public Schools and Allegheny County — on removing any old tax liabilities.
An agreement would provide a formal process to clear liabilities, and in the interim any of the three could put up a fight when the land bank files paperwork in the county Court of Common Pleas to toss old liabilities, also known as “clearing” or “quieting” title. Spokespeople for each of the three governments that would be part of the agreement have previously said either that they seek representation on the land bank board or have yet to hear from land bank officials.
There was no update at last week’s land bank board meeting about reaching an agreement, although top official Sally Stadelman previously told the Union Progress that the land bank plans to engage the three governments and “bring them into the fold.”