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Philadelphia’s Land Bank Could Ease Path to Development
Purchasing public properties for redevelopment in Philadelphia can often be a cumbersome task. Parcels may be owned by several different City agencies, and negotiating a purchase can be complex – especially when attempting to assemble several smaller parcels for a larger development.
The Philadelphia Land Bank was established in 2013 as a more efficient way to return vacant, abandoned and tax-delinquent properties to productive use. It aims to simplify the process of transferring properties from public agencies to private owners. In addition to the convenience of one stop shopping, parcels held by the land bank will be free of municipal liens, so developers can purchase properties without the need to negotiate tax liens.
The Land Bank has taken more than two years to get up to speed, with its own board of directors and staff overseeing the process. A 2014 strategic plan lays out policies for how the Land Bank will get properties into the right hands, as well guidance on how land should be used. The first properties were transferred to the Land Bank in late 2015.
There are currently more than 1,700 properties searchable on the Land Bank’s website. Any individual, developer, or organization with no outstanding tax or property-related liens can seek to purchase a parcel. Purchasers must reuse the property in compliance with City code requirements and ordinances, have the financial ability to purchase the property, and have the capacity to complete the work associated with the reuse plan. Requirements vary depending on the property, but affordable housing is generally a highly favored use.
Purchasers of one or two parcels can submit an “Expression of Interest” for development on the Land Bank’s website, with the proposed use evaluated by staff. It is expected that first wave of sales will involve single vacant properties for residential redevelopment, or vacant parcels for use as side yards or community gardens.
The Land Bank could be particularly useful when assembling several parcels for a larger development. The strategic plan identified more than 100 “assemblage opportunities” throughout the City, defined as clusters of more than 10 vacant properties. In addition to acquiring publicly-owned parcels, the Land Bank also has the authority to acquire private tax-delinquent properties when needed.
While the Land Bank presents a new and easier way to do business, it will not completely transform land development in the entire City or eliminate the need for stakeholder consensus on uses. The District Councilperson is integral to the process, as with most development, and City Council must pass a resolution approving any sale. To date, properties have been transferred within only four of the ten council districts. Also, properties may still be disposed of by individual City agencies or through a request for proposal process.
Philadelphia is the largest city yet to create a land bank, and advocates have set goals to have the majority of public property transferred by 2018. While the initiative is still in its infancy, the Land Bank has the potential to accelerate the development of unproductive real estate in those areas of the City most in need.
If you are developing a project in the region, the professionals at Wolf Commercial Real Estate can provide advice on acquisition, use, and sources of funding.
For more information on the Land Bank:
Twitter: @PhilaLandBank @wcre1
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