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Council approves land bank measure Blighted parcels would be target

Lackawanna, a city chock full of vacant and tax-delinquent properties, wants to be part of a new state land bank program that could transform the blighted parcels into productive uses.

The City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to work with Erie County on creating a regional land bank -- an entity that would have the power to acquire and demolish abandoned houses or fix them up, as well as manage and reuse the properties for economic development and neighborhood revitalization.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed a law last July that allows cities and counties to create and administer land banks.

Empire State Development Corp. is seeking applications by March 30 from cities and counties interested in establishing a land bank. Initially, no more than five applicants statewide will be allowed to create one. Ten land banks ultimately will be permitted.

"We could apply ourselves, but our application wouldn't be strong enough," said Ralph Miranda, the city's director of development.

Lackawanna was better off joining forces with the county, the City of Buffalo and other communities on a regional land bank, he said.

It's unclear whether Buffalo will sign on. Mayor Byron W. Brown has expressed reservations in the past about how the land banks would be funded.

Third Ward Councilman Francis Kulczyk put forth a measure that calls upon the city to hammer out an agreement with Erie County on establishing a land bank.

"What we have now isn't working," he said.

Kulczyk's resolution pointed out that there are unpaid tax liens on 864 parcels in Lackawanna alone, worth $789,069 in uncollected taxes.

Across the county, there are more than 73,000 tax liens on properties that owe nearly $54 million in taxes.

The state's land bank act allows for the establishment of a nonprofit corporation that essentially functions as a property management company. Proceeds from the sales of properties are returned to a fund that can then be used to improve other blighted parcels, said Miranda.

Resident Joseph Disenzo expressed concern about whether Lackawanna would be properly represented on a new land bank entity that also includes other communities. He also questioned Council members on how much it might cost to manage such an entity, including such items as lawyer's fees and staff pay.

It was too early in the process to know those details, said Henry Pirowski, Council president.

"Those are legitimate questions," Pirowski said. "This is a first step."