Expediting land bank smart move

Units of government oftentimes bog down proposals by trying to stuff too much into one measure.

A Mirror editorial on Sunday noted one such situation involving the Pennsylvania General Assembly, which has failed to pass a Senate bill authorizing speed cameras in active work zones, in part due to a proposed pilot program in Philadelphia that would be tied to basic provisions of the bill.

To Altoona’s credit, leaders apparently do not intend to make a similar error regarding creation of a land bank, an entity whose efforts will center on diverting blighted properties headed for tax sale to responsible developers — keeping the properties out of the hands of potential buyers unwilling or incapable of renovating them.

As an article in Sunday’s Mirror reported, the city apparently will be launching the land bank endeavor alone, even though the option exists for other municipalities and the county to be a part of the initiative from the start.

The city council has been asked by the Blight Action Team, the successor to the former Blight Task Force, to officially designate, by way of an ordinance, the Altoona Redevelopment Authority as a land bank, rather than create a new agency.

The authority could legally act in both capacities at its meetings; the only stipulation would be that authority members be clear at all times regarding which capacity their discussion and actions are focused.

In regard to the danger of muddling the process of establishing the land bank, the thinking seems to be that other municipalities and the county could be brought into the picture once the land bank function has its proverbial feet planted.

Marla Marcinko, city manager and Blight Action Team member, has provided the logical viewpoint that it will be important for the land bank to “identify achievable strategies” and produce successes before opening itself to other potential municipal partners.

The initial go-it-alone attitude will avoid the potential snags that having too many voices in the beginning stage might cause.

Just like it would be better for state lawmakers to enact basic speed camera legislation and build upon that foundation, the land bank’s strong foothold, based on Altoona alone, would enable easier integration of other municipalities later to form a broader, stronger, uninterrupted mission.

It’s important to point out that all affected real estate taxing bodies will have to be brought aboard for whatever land bank structure that the city opts. Without any other municipal participants, the taxing bodies, in addition to the city, will be the Altoona Area School District and the county.

So far, neither the school district nor the county has raised any red flags about the land bank plan currently under consideration.

As the situation now stands, then, the city seems rightly focused on pursuing the option — the redevelopment authority option — that will eliminate the time-consuming process of starting all-new. Redevelopment authority members are capable, dedicated individuals with the talents to get the land bank operating efficiently and effectively in the least amount of time.

They also possess the ability to establish an orderly process for adding additional municipalities, if that becomes necessary later.

The land bank needs to begin without unnecessary complications.

Judging from the laudable discussion to date, Altoona is positioned for such a result.

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