Phila. Land Bank now open for business

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Currently, the city owns nearly 9,000 vacant parcels, but the deeds are held among three different agencies. The Land Bank aims to end that by taking custody of the city's stock of vacant land.

Nearly two years after its creation, the Philadelphia Land Bank is ready to do business.

Mayor Nutter on Wednesday announced the transfer of 150 property deeds owned by the government nonprofit Philadelphia Housing Development Corp. to the Land Bank, a deposit that made the bank able to carry out its mission: assemble vacant properties for development.

And more deposits are on the way. An additional 500 PHDC deeds are expected to be transferred by the end of the year, and on Thursday, City Council is expected to approve the transfer to the bank of 833 city-owned properties.

The Land Bank was created in 2013, after much negotiating between the administration and Council, as an instrument for streamlining the redevelopment of vacant properties.

Currently, the city owns nearly 9,000 vacant parcels, but the deeds are held among three agencies. The Land Bank aims to end that situation by taking custody of the city's stock of vacant land.

City officials also plan to use the Land Bank to acquire privately held tax-delinquent properties and sell them to responsible buyers.

But there were a few hurdles the city needed to clear in the last two years before the Land Bank could do business, including clearing up the titles of city-owned properties (still an ongoing process) and negotiating agreements with the unions representing workers who are helping with the Land Bank.

"Today marks an important milestone in the city of Philadelphia in our ongoing efforts to take vacant properties and restore them into productive use," Nutter said Wednesday during a news conference.

The Land Bank was one of the initiatives Nutter campaigned on in 2007.

On Wednesday, he said he could not have done it without the efforts of Councilwoman Maria Quiñones Sánchez, the bank's leading advocate on Council. He joked that whenever he spoke with her, she found a way to bring up the Land Bank.

"It's that kind of focus that gets things done," Nutter added.

The councilwoman joked back that she is "a disrupter."

Sánchez has signed off on transferring 724 city-owned properties in her district to the bank.

Council President Darrell L. Clarke, who signed off on 48 properties in his district to be transferred, said more batches were coming, but did not elaborate.

Land Bank spokesman Paul Chrystie said more deposits are on the way. Officials estimate 5,500 city-owned properties are eligible to be moved to the bank, he said.

"It is likely that the majority of those will in fact move to the Land Bank, although the timing will be driven by circumstances surrounding each one," Chrystie said.

It could also depend on councilmanic prerogative.

As the law is written, district Council members can veto land transfers in the section of the city they represent. Many in the development community have criticized this aspect of the Land Bank legislation.

On Wednesday, Mayor-elect Jim Kenney, who was attending a symposium on development, criticized what he said was a "slow" and "frustrating" process of getting the program up and running, then pledged to support it.

Kenney, who as a Council member voted for the Land Bank legislation, said he would direct the people in his administration working on housing, economic development, and commercial issues to get involved with the process and try to solve problems.

"Whenever there's snags, the administration can play a role in un-snagging it and making sure the district Council person and developer get where they want to be," Kenney said.

After the Council and PHDC transfers go through, Kenney will get to oversee the transfer of 4,000 city-owned properties to the Land Bank.

cvargas@phillynews.com

215-854-5520@InqCVargas

Inquirer staff writer Julia Terruso contributed to this article.