Grumpy’s… anything but!

Pottstown's most charming grandpa?
Why did Sheila and Eugene Dugan pick a scowling, old guy to represent their new, hand-carved sandwich business in the Farmers’ Market building at 300 High Street?

“We were sitting around with our kids, trying to come up with a name and our oldest son Shane said, ‘Let’s name it after Dad and call it Grumpy’s.”

As it sunk in, the whole family cracked up. Eugene, who has been in the food industry practically his entire life and has a degree in culinary arts from Johnson & Wales University, had been out of work for a while. So maybe he had been a little grumpy until embarking on this new venture. But that good-natured family vibe won out, and that’s what Grumpy’s Handcarved Sandwiches is all about. And freshly-cooked and prepared sandwiches, of course.

My mom and I had the chance to sample their #2 Turkey Roseo with roasted red peppers, pesto mayo and sharp provolone cheese and found the creamy pesto mayo and hearty portions will leave you feeling satisfied for hours. They also offer many other chef-carved, all natural turkey, roast beef and pulled pork specialties. There’s even peanut butter & jelly, without the crust, for $1.50 for your little ones! Add to that homemade soups and sides, and you’ve got all the fixins for lunch, dinner, an office party, or any family or social gathering.

Grumpy’s offers catering and can customize a menu that works for any occasion and budget. They will be open whenever there are events downtown such as the Classic Car Shows and the Halloween Parade. They’re already dreaming up special hot chocolate drinks and s’mores for Halloween.

Their official grand opening will take place August 26-28, during which they will hold 3 raffles – no entry fee, just add your name & cross your fingers.
1. A catered party that includes sandwiches, sides and sodas for up to 5 people
2. Two meals & two sieds.
3. A Grumpy’s t-shirt & a meal

That t-shirt may become a collector’s item; people are already asking for them. Sheila’s brother, John McCafferty, of McCafferty & Company Advertising in Louisville, KY, designed the logo. Locally, Patrizi Designs made the sign. Leighton Wildrick, Pottstown’s Main Street Manager, helped smooth over some last-minute bumps in the road so they could open up in their storefront on High Street.

The Dugans are one of many families crossing my path these days, who have moved to Pottstown to be part of a walkable, small town community. They recently moved from a development home in Pottsgrove and bought an historic home on Hanover Street. “We’ve got 3,000 square feet, wonderful neighbors, and our kids can walk to school,” said Sheila. “We’re committed to Pottstown.”

Now, that’s what we like to hear!

Grumpy’s Handcarved Sandwiches
300 High Street (Farmers’ Market, entrance on High Street)
Pottstown, PA 19464
610-323-1232
Hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 11 am – 6 pm; open late for special events in town.
Some outdoor seating.

Visit Positively!Pottstown on Tuesday, when we’ll launch another “Name that Building” contest and give away two $10 gift certificates to Grumpy’s, donated by Grumpy’s.

Beyond the Borough’s Borders – Part 1

We’re in a small airplane now, considering how Pottstown geographically connects and relates to its region. How do the uses and zoning along its borders complement or conflict with neighboring municipalities’ uses and zoning? Note the major manmade and natural features of the landscape: railroad tracks, highways, bridges, industrial areas, schools and playgrounds, parks and green spaces, the river, the creek. You can try to also let your eyes only notice one category at a time – just the roads, or just the green spaces – to further imprint how things connect… or don’t.

Still up in that plane, let’s consider how all the groups and individuals in the community (the ones we talked about in the last post) interact with and represent Pottstown to the outside world of the county, the state and federal governments (regulatory agencies and funding sources), private foundation funding sources, and the private sector. What is the quantity and quality of those interactions? How can they become more positive, active and productive, so that the Borough can get its due? Especially in these difficult times, how can the Borough become more competitive for a bigger share of whatever funding and economic growth there is to be had in the region?

Let’s land the plane and head to our computers.

I said in my first article that your zoning tells you who you are and who you want to be. That wasn’t quite the bottom line. Your Comprehensive Plan is actually the foundation that underlies the zoning. The Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code is the legislation that enables communities “to plan their development and to govern the same by zoning, subdivision and land development ordinances, planned residential development and other ordinances, by official maps, by the reservation of certain land for future public purpose and by the acquisition of such land; to promote the conservation of energy…” It allows for planning commissions and zoning hearing boards. In short, it sets up the rules for the whole system of land development in the state.

Comprehensive Plans are divided into sections that address specific community concerns and needs: statement of objectives, land use, housing, transportation, community facilities & utilities, statement of interrelationships among plan elements, discussion of short and long-range implementation strategies, statement of compatibility with neighboring municipalities, and a plan for the protection of natural & historic resources. In many communities, the adoption or update of a comprehensive plan results in well-attended, lively public meetings because they know that this document may result in zoning changes which literally touch everybody where they live.

An open space plan would fall under the “land use” category above. Pottstown contracted with the County for an Open Space Plan, done in 2006. Please, please check out Fig. 2, Existing Land Use, a gorgeous map on page 14. (Bookmark it, too, because we’ll come back to that in later post.)

Comprehensive Plans are supposed to be updated at least once every 10 years. Pottstown last adopted its own Comprehensive Plan in 1986. More recently, it has used as its guiding planning document the Pottstown Metropolitan Regional Comprehensive Plan, which was done in 2005 and is in the process of being updated now. Other communities participating in that plan are: Upper Pottsgrove, Lower Pottsgrove, West Pottsgrove, New Hanover, Douglass, East Coventry, and North Coventry.

I’ll just say up front: I’m all for regional planning. Ideally, there’d be fewer school districts and municipalities and more regionally-based planning and government. “Home rule” has gotten many municipalities into a bunch of messes, and it’s clear that Pottstown and other First Suburbs have got more than their fair share. and from where I’m sitting, the Montgomery County Planning Commission looks like an incredible resource and likely ally for the Borough, so I’m kind of scratching my head when I hear or read negative comments online about “the County.”

If you go to the Montgomery County Community Revitalization Program page of their website and click on the Projects Summary – Completion Through 2009, you’ll see that Pottstown has gotten $3.4 million since the program’s inception in 2000. Only Norristown has gotten more at $5.9 million. The “X”s show work completed. The X for the 2006 Homeownership Initiative, Phase 3, should appear further to the right to indicate it was “partially completed,” but wordpress seems to want to put it right after the text.

Pottstown Borough
2000 PECO Acquisition & Bldg. Rehab. Commercial Building Improvements $158,100 X
2000 Site Plan – Riverfront Park Non-Construction – Plans, Studies & Engineerin $42,500 X
2000 Redevelopment Plan Non-Construction – Plans, Studies & Engineerin $46,750 X
2000 Marketing Non-Construction – CBD Marketing $25,000 X
2000 Economic Dev. Director Non-Construction – Revitalization Staff $51,000 X
2002 High Street Parking Parking Improvements $163,200 X
2003 Schuylkill River Center Commercial Building Improvements $27,000 X
2003 Homeownership Initiative Housing $87,500 X
2004 Pottstown Symphony Orchestra Cultural & Arts Attractions $10,000 X
2004 Homeownership Initiative, Ph. 2 Housing $224,500 X
2004 Downtown Marketing, Ph. 2 Non-Construction – CBD Marketing $33,500 X
2005 Pedestrian Underpass & Promenade Transportation – Pedestrian Connections $359,000 X
2006 Homeownership Initiative, Ph. 3 Housing $300,000 X
2006 Performing Arts Center, Ph. 1 Cultural & Arts Attractions $200,000 X
2007 Performing Arts Center, Ph. 2 Cultural & Arts Attractions $235,000 X
2007 Carousel, Ph. 1 Cultural & Arts Attractions $300,000
2007 Homeownership Initiative Housing $100,000
2008 Pottstown Airport Expansion Other $250,000
2008 Industrial Drive Redevelopment Plan Amendment Non-Construction – Plans, Studies & Engineerin $250,000
2009 Homeownership Initiative Housing $150,000
2009 Performing Arts Center Cultural & Arts Attractions $396,000
TOTAL: $3,409,050

Here are just some of the planning tools that the County has developed for use by its municipalities: state-of-the-art model ordinances, a newsletter called Planning Perspectives, and Planning by Design, bulletins that clearly describe design considerations in ways an average citizen can understand.

Suffice it to say that even with the County as part of the Pottstown Partnership, there needs to be renewed efforts – especially in this time of spending freezes and private sector slowdown – to get/to keep the Borough’s development priorities front and center with the County. In that sense, Pottstown has to take charge of its own destiny.

Okay, so I’ve spent a lot of time on the County, but the importance of this relationship cannot be overstated. The County is a planning and policy partner as well as a funding source, and the Borough needs to be working positively and pro-actively with them on every level. I really don’t know all the ins and outs of how they work together, so it’d be great if people could comment on that.

Radiating outward, real quick… the Borough should put itself out there as a spokesperson for the redevelopment and revitalization challenges facing older, developed communities. That means being an active participant in the conversations about First Suburbs, the PA Land Bank legislation, the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission’s policies and funding schedules, the County’s regional planning issues, and even federal community development funding priorities. First and foremost, the Borough’s got to start achieving some success in its own revitalization efforts. But along with that, if it makes itself visible in these broader arenas, and makes its voice heard, it could improve its chances to move toward the front of the line when it comes time to receive the ever-dwindling funds that are out there.

There’s more radiating outward to be done. I’ve got to wrap this up and we didn’t even get to the Keystone Opportunity Zone, or the private sector, or consumers with money! I’ll have to cover those in the next post of the series.

Note: I’m going to Bethlehem today with a contingent from Pottstown to check out Musikfest and learn how Bethlehem used arts and cultural development as an economic redevelopment tool. I took a continuing ed class on this kind of stuff last year and can’t wait to see this particular example in action. I’ll be sure to report on it asap.

Another fun First Saturday!

This past weekend, another First Saturday (brought to you by the Pottstown Arts & Cultural Alliance) brought the downtown to life with music, community-building and classic cars.

sweet!

This was the first time I set up a table, and I sure was grateful to get an iced mocha from Churchill and to get a spot under a canopy from Erica Hornburg-Cooper from The Gallery School. When kids stopped by to do art projects, they usually grabbed a bottle of bubbles and a Positively!Pottstown re-usable bag from my table.

It seemed like lots of people were getting great book bargains from the Pottstown Public Library sale. As they kept making their way to my table, it became obvious that I should just turn my bags over to the folks at the library so people could put their books directly into them there! Since the 4th of July, 250 Positively!Pottstown bags have infiltrated the community, bringing day-glo orange cheeriness to shopping carts throughout the region. Can a world dominated by positivity be far behind??

Another cool thing about hanging out at Smith Family Plaza on First Saturday is that the world comes to you, bringing ideas for future blog posts. I met Louis Rieger of High Street Music. And Ross Landy of WPAZ Preservation Association. And when lunchtime rolled around, my mom brought a delicious and filling sandwich from Grumpy’s, who will be featured in an article later this week.

Rounding out the music for the day was “Maggie Spike,” the duo of Eric and Peggy Gernerd. These Berks County natives play a very enjoyable, foot-tapping mix of acoustic folk, rock, jazz and reggae that has you humming along in no time.

Maggie Spike and Mike Holliday (courtesy of Maggie Spike)

And, finally, since I really had to get home, I could only glimpse the beginning of the Pottstown Classics Car Club Nostalgia Night and make plans to spend some more time there next month. The next First Saturday, which will be the final one for 2010, will take place on September 4th – hope to see you then!

The work of the community

Just as we’ve considered the physical layout and characteristics of Pottstown on some maps and on the ground, we can also take a bird’s eye view of how all the different players in the community take on the “work of the community” and how they relate to one another. There are the elected and appointed officials, individually and as members of a public body; non-profit housing, arts, health & wellness, library, shade tree and preservation groups; churches; civic groups like Scouts, fraternal organizations, PTAs; citizen activists; municipal employees; and the private sector that keeps the economic engine running and, in many cases, financially supports the work of the non-profit, civic and religious groups.

If you were hovering above all these groups in Pottstown, who would you see repeatedly crashing into one another? Or who is being deliberately cut out of the game? On the flip side, who sets screens for other players to help them fulfill their role better? Who quietly shows up day after day, year after year, getting their work done?

I am in no way saying that every group and every person in Pottstown must figure out how to work in perfect harmony. Every community needs its watchdogs, especially when there are obvious, serious problems that need to be addressed.

WHAT PROGRESS LOOKS LIKE
It’s not news that many people are frustrated with the status quo. For the past 9-12 months, there has been a growing impatience and vocal expression of frustration in the blogosphere, in the online comments at The Mercury and in person at public meetings. Citizens have formed groups to respond to specific issues. What’s apparently pretty remarkable is that Council, the Borough Manager and the School Board are listening and have begun taking action on some long-standing problems. They are also setting up processes for information-gathering, deliberation and consensus-building. This is what progress looks like.

These will take time, and not every statement or public comment is going to come out perfectly, whether it’s from someone on the inside or the outside of the process. People might not say what they mean in quite the right way. Maybe they have to back-track or re-phrase. If certain lines of communication haven’t ever been used, or not used very often, elected and appointed officials, citizens and bloggers, too, are not going to come out with perfectly-formed thoughts and ideas right off the bat. We’re just human and need to remind ourselves to cut each other some slack – all for the sake of getting the work done.

BACK TO THE WORK
Individuals feel like they’re making a meaningful contribution to the work of a community when they have a defined role – when they are recognized and asked to participate in meaningful tasks with a clear purpose. In Pottstown there’s a lot to be done. Anyone who wants to be part of positive change should be given a chance to do their thing. New people need to be pulled in. The court is big here and there’s no five-player limit.

Right about now you might be thinking: “Yeah, yeah. That all sounds just so nice. Now who’s going to FIX things?” Recently – I can’t find it now – someone posted a comment on one of the local blogs to the effect that the town has been down this road before. They hire someone who’s expected to do miracles, it doesn’t happen, they leave and the town loses again. They may have predicted that would happen with the new director of PAID/The Pottstown Partnership… and where does that stand now, anyway?

NO MIRACLES HERE
First, every public entity would do itself a huge favor by figuring out how to more frequently update the public on its activities. We live in a wired world; the expectation is that information should be available, if not immediately, then within a few minutes! Every entity, although not the Partnership yet, has its own website and should be keeping the public informed, even in an informal way. I understand that minutes from meetings are not official until they’ve been approved. But especially in a time of transition – Pottstown seems to be transitioning to a new era of responsiveness & action – when frustration and skepticism still run high, regular, simple updates would go a long way toward gaining citizen confidence.

Second, there is no miracle worker on the horizon for PAID or for Pottstown. You don’t even want to think like that. It’s a set-up for failure, for that individual and for the community. At this point, I’d like to go back to a link in my previous article. It was Wikipedia’s definition of Comprehensive Planning, which showed this step-by-step process:

• Identifying issues
• Stating goals
• Collecting data
• Preparing the plan
• Creating implementation plans
• Evaluating alternatives
• Adopting a plan
• Implementing and monitoring the plan

Whoever heads up the Pottstown Partnership is going to have to do all these things in an open and transparent way that brings out the best in those who are already in the community. Let’s face it, Pottstown can be – to quote Rodney Dangerfield – “a rough crowd.” And I say that with all the affection and pride in the world! 🙂 Whoever comes in would do well to create an economic development plan of action WITH the stakeholders as well as FOR the stakeholders.

Third, you can’t just order up a whole new team! The individuals and groups that already exist in town are certainly capable of listening, learning, gathering information, assessing, making decisions, implementing and monitoring them. They may have fallen short in the past, to varying degrees, but evidence is mounting that they are moving on now, trying to do better and succeeding. These are not miracles. These are people following the outlines of a thoughtful, planning process and getting a job done together.

Next up: Forces and resources outside the Borough’s borders

Things to do this weekend

Lots going on for the first weekend in August!

Just added:
JAMES ENDERS POP ART GALLERY PRESENTS:THE ART PARTY
Friday, August 6 at 7:30pm
JAMES ENDERS POP ART GALLERY
217 E HIGH STREET

FIRST SATURDAY at Smith Plaza in downtown Pottstown
10 am-2 pm
Music, art, vendors
10 am: Pottstown Dance Theatre- African Dance
11 am: High Street Music Showcase
Noon: Maggie Spike

I’ll be there giving away Positively!Pottstown re-usable bags and bubbles for the kids, while supplies last. Stop by and say “hello!”

SUMMER MEMBER EXHIBIT
Gallery on High
254 E. High Street
610-326-2506
Reception on Saturday, Aug. 7 from 3-5 pm. Free & open to the public. Exhibit runs until Aug. 13.

SUNDAY IN THE PARK MUSIC SERIES
John Hain and the Mango Summers Band
Riverfront Park
College Drive, Pottstown, PA
Sunday, Aug. 8
2:00 PM – 4:00 PM

LIVING HISTORY SUNDAYS at Pottstgrove Manor
100 W. King Street
610-326-4014
Sundays, Aug. 8, 15, 22, 29 from 1-4 pm
Costumed interpreters will live life the Colonial way with activities such as needlework, gunsmithing, butter churning, tape-loom weaving and more. Visitors can watch , learn & join in! Bring the kids! Call to find out which activity is slated for this Sunday. See a photos & more details at the Sanatoga Post.

How one planner thinks

After months of getting pulled in closer, learning a lot, and meeting and talking with a lot of people, I’d like to now write more specifically about the planning, land development and community development challenges facing Pottstown. I’ll be writing with several different, intertwined perspectives in mind. The urban planning part of my brain is influenced by my point guard/leader/coaching brain, and it’s all (still) informed by the experiences of living in Pottstown, going up and down its streets in cars, on a bike, running or walking on my own two feet, during my formative years. I’ll try to show my thinking on the page, and in the process I hope to re-frame the way the community thinks about its challenges and what it wants to be, so that it’s better positioned to get there. If something doesn’t quite make sense or I’ve got a basic assumption all wrong, I apologize in advance. Let me know so I can re-assess things based on reality.

As to the title of this blog post… I’m going to lean heavily on a sports analogy here at the beginning. I see a connection between being a point guard in high school and college and then finding myself in the planning profession. A key concept & goal of the profession is to be comprehensive in outlook. And being a point guard means “seeing” and keeping track of everything that’s happening on the court.

Example: On a fast break, a point guard might not even know exactly who she’s passing to. She just sees the color of her teammates’ jerseys spread out in front of her. She sees opposing jerseys. She sees an open space that a teammate might move into, to get closer to the basket, and she tosses the ball to that space, believing her teammate will move to it, get the ball and score. You don’t want to make or encourage moves that have people crashing into one another. Teammates need to keep good spacing, but they do need to come together, say, when one sets a screen for another. They move closer together, then they move apart. It’s about seeing space and color and individuals working in concert. (Just re-read that… could almost describe a land use map too.) Ideally, it’s one big orchestrated dance that has spontaneity, too, based on trust and instinct.

On several different levels, I think about community development and comprehensive planning, at its best, as a series of orchestrated movements, where different people and groups are playing their roles to the best of their ability. The goals are reasonably attainable, based on the skills that everyone brings to the game. In hoops, you don’t want a schedule where you’re always losing and stuck in an unhealthy frame of mind. In community or economic development, you don’t want to set goals you can’t reach.

So let’s think of a really, really large court; let’s think of several bird’s eye views of Pottstown. A zoning map, historic district map, and homeowners’ initiative map all give a different view. Different uses, zones and priorities have been assigned to different spaces for specific reasons. Yes, these can be modified over time for many reasons. But no land use recommendations or decision should be made without regard to surrounding properties and the uses/priorities assigned to adjacent zones. Sounds simple, but in reality, it’s easy to get carried away from such a basic consideration.

I started writing what you’ve just read, after getting – ah, irked – at a July 31st Mercury article about an “energy plant” that comes with a landfill, proposed for the former Stanley G. Flagg site. The Mercury followed up with a glowing opinion piece on August 1st. But just because something comes in green wrapping paper doesn’t mean it’s good for a particular community.

From a bird’s eye view of Pottstown’s zoning map, I imagine truck after truck delivering municipal solid waste to a flex office zone that has parkland on one side and a narrow gateway zone and neighborhood residential on the other side. Parkland. Green Garbage. Gateway/Neighborhood Residential. This would be an example of incompatible uses crashing up against one another – in short, a badly run play.

I’m generally in favor of green initiatives! But every activity – even a green one – has to be considered in its context, in its specific location. And Pottstown has to start getting serious about how it markets itself. There are other green activities that it can explore and try to bring to town that don’t involve garbage at its western gateway. (We’ll get to these in this series, down the road a bit.)

Okay, so eventually, we need to print out a copy of the maps, come down out of the sky and see what’s exactly on the ground. It’s best to walk around with map in hand and get a sense of the scale of anything that’s already there or in the vicinity. There’s a whole other level of sensory awareness of what makes a “place” work. What do you see, smell and hear in a neighborhood or on a particular site? Does it feel safe?

When friends are looking for a new house in a new community, I advise them to stop in at the municipal building and visit the planning and engineering offices. Ask to see their maps and (here in NJ) the town’s Master Plan. Ask what’s going on. I also advise them to visit their potential new neighborhood at several different times during the day and night. Look for railroad tracks and airports; is there a lot of noise? Truck traffic? Commuter traffic? Bring the kids to the potential house, park the car, get out and walk to the park or school or ice cream shop together to see how it feels. Is it going to work for your family?

We’re all going to have our own opinions and different tolerance levels for all kinds of activities. But a town’s maps, and the ordinances that underlie and support those maps, represent existing public policy. Periodically, you re-evaluate them, you talk it out publicly and you might change them. You make exceptions only for very compelling reasons. To me, though, this is your starting point as a community. Your maps and your ordinances say who you are, how you want to grow, what you want your town to be.

Next up: Who’s doing the “work of the community?”

HB 712 – PA Land Bank Legislation

This afternoon I sat in on an hour-long webinar on proposed legislation that would enable the creation and operation of land banks in PA. The ability to create land banks would give all municipalities and counties a tremendous tool against blight and property abandonment. I could see a Pottstown Land Bank working hand-in-hand with The Pottstown Partnership, Genesis Housing and even PACA, offering homes for sale or lease-purchase throughout the Borough, marketing & offering housing and work space to artists (similar to Paducah, KY), attracting homeowners, entrepreneurs and businesses, and getting properties back on the tax rolls. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania sponsored the webinar. The presenters were Cindy Daley, Policy Director of the Housing Alliance, and Irene McClaughlin, an attorney and mediator who has spent her career dealing with blight-related issues in the Pittsburgh area. From the Alliance website: “Anti-blight land banking legislation passed the House on Tuesday, June 29, 2010 by a majority vote of 190-8. HB 712 provides for the creation of land banks for the conversion of vacant or tax-delinquent properties into productive use. The Housing Alliance supports this bill, although we anticipate it will need some technical amendments in the Senate.”

Below are some key points about what this legislation would allow and how a land bank would function. There are still questions about the nitty-gritty details, but with such overwhelming support in the House, it seems like this legislation could very well get passed in some form pretty soon. It is enabling legislation, which means that it allows land banks to be created but it’s up to individual towns and counties. It is NOT mandatory.

There are an estimated 300,000 vacant properties statewide. Between population and job loss and sprawl, rural, inner ring suburbs and urban communities have been faced with blight and abandonment.

An abandoned house or lot reduces the value of all other surrounding houses by an average of $6,720.

There might be potential buyers for these properties, but an inability to find the property owner, the lack of clear title, and debt that exceeds the property’s value all prevent a property from getting a new owner. Existing tools are inadequate: uncertainty of tax foreclosure process; cost & difficulty of condemnation; and existing laws, which have been on the books for decades never anticipated people simply walking away from property.

Land banks are single purpose entities created by local government to manage properties that no reasonable purchaser otherwise wants.

Would allow for the clearing of existing liens and old debt; clearing of title; remediation; assembly of parcels for current market conditions; holding of property until a market emerges; disposal or transfer under terms and conditions driven by the market.

Land banks just a part of a larger picture. Still need tax collection and foreclosure reform along with clearer mechanisms for protecting low-income homeowners or owners who simply wait until the last possible minute before paying their taxes. This enabling legislation – HB 712 – is just the beginning of the process.

Details of HB 712
Defines a Land Bank as a public agency.
Jurisdiction: Cities or counties that are authorized by state law to create a redevelopment authority. Any city or boro with 10K or more population.
Formed by an ordinance subject to approval by a mayor or county executive.
Intergovernmental Cooperation Agreement (ICA) between 2 or more land bank jurisdictions.
Smaller jurisdiction could join an existing land bank.
If there’s a land bank in a city and in that county, the county can’t take real property in that city.

Board of Directors
5-11 members (odd number); can include public officials and municipal employees.
Must include at least one voting member who is a community resident and a member of a civic organization, but who is not a public official or employee.
Must have open meetings, a regular meeting schedule and follow Sunshine Laws.
Staff: may hire employees, or have crossover with city staff & municipal functions

General powers
Adopt, amend, repeal bylaws
Borrow money
Issue negotiable revenue bongds and notes
Enter into contracts
Collect rent
Design, develop, construct, demolish real property
Partnerships, joint ventures for development of real property.
Needs to have capacity to maintain the property according to existing codes.

Acquisition & Holding of Property: gift, transfer, exchange, foreclosure, purchase, from municipalities, from tax claim bureaus. At this point, these properties are undesired by anyone else.
Land bank’s real property, income and operations are exempt from state & local taxation.
Land banks may only acquire property within their jurisdiction, except by Intergovernmental Cooperation Agreement (ICA.) Except if property is leased out to 3rd party for more than 5 years, then income becomes taxable. Ideally, will stabilize and bring up values of surrounding properties.

Disposition: A land bank must create an inventory of its real property which is available to the public for inspection.
May sell, transfer, lease, or mortgage any real property of the land bank.
A land bank may establish priorities for the re-use of real property it conveys, including but not limited to uses for: purely public spaces and places, affordable housing, retail, commercial & industrial activities, conservation areas. These uses are not specified in the bill; it’s up to each particular Land Bank. Priorities don’t have to be uniform across the land bank area. Bill recognizes that land use is going to be specific to location. By-laws and any ICA would establish specifics and priorities.

Financing Land Bank operations:
Grants & loans from municipality, Commonwealth, Fed. Govt. & other public & private sources.
Payments for services rendered.
Rents and leasehold payments.
A practice adopted in Michigan that provides a regular funding source: an agreement is reached with the taxing jurisdictions – not more than 50% of real property taxes collected for 5 years after the transfer of property will go back to the land bank. As proposed in HB 712, this is optional, subject to agreement with municipality and school district.
Borrowing and issuance of bonds. Municipalities may but are not required to guarantee the bonds Bonds and income are tax-exempt.

Required to keep records of proceeding & subject to following state laws:Open meetings, Right To Know, Conflict of Interests, Ethical Standards Laws

Special Powers
Power to discharge & extinguish real property tax liens and claims, subject to the approval of the school district for school taxes.
May file a court action to quiet title in an expedited procedure. Multiple parcels of real property may be joined in a single complaint in action to quiet title.
Land banks do NOT have power of eminent domain.

Dissolution: There is a procedure for dissolution of the Land Bank.

Audits: Land bank income and expenses and a report will be submitted annually to DCED and to participating municipalities.

Land Banks and PA Real Estate Tax Collection & Foreclosure
Municipalities may assign tax claims and liens to the land bank. Municipality and a land bank may agree to a set bid price in advance of public auction (upset sale or judicial sale as well as at “single sale” allowed unter MCTLL (only for Phila and Allegh. Counties)) and transfer property to the Land Bank as purchaser in accordance with the agreement. Within 30 days of the purchase, the land bank must receive the deed transferring the property free and clear of all claims, liens and charges.

Next steps: HB712 is now in Senate Urban Affirs & Housing Committee. The Committee intends to hold a hearing on the bill – early Sept.? The Housing Alliance is convening a Working Group to review the bill & propose amendments. All interested stakeholders are invited to participate. And once the language of HB 712 is finalized, the group will begin working on mechanism for financing land banks and tax sale reform, including strong hardship waivers.

National Night Out

I’ll be at the Chestnut Street Park today from about 5-6:15 to have some fun and observe National Night Out before going to a local bloggers’ meeting. Although I tweaked my back at the gym yesterday, I’ll be bringing some basketballs — I think I’ll still be able to run a few dribbling games with the kids 🙂

National Night Out is in its 27th year. Their website describes the event as “an effective, inexpensive and enjoyable program to promote neighborhood spirit and police-community partnerships in our fight for a safer nation.” Locally, the event is being organized and sponsored by Genesis Housing Corp., Victory Christian Life Center and Citizens for Pottstown’s Revitalization. The park is at the corner of Chestnut and Washington Streets. See you there!

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