Land Bank Created To Spur Development of Brownfields
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, Majority Leader DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) and 10th District Legislator Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) applauded the creation of a Suffolk County Land Bank. The measure is designed to take advantage of a new state law and allow Suffolk County to remediate and return to the tax rolls abandoned and contaminated brownfield properties. The Legislature unanimously supported creating the Land Bank.
The law allows the County to establish the Suffolk County Land Bank Corporation, a not-for-profit entity that gives the County discretion to acquire and sell brownfields for development purposes. Brownfields are abandoned properties, previously used for industrial purposes or commercial uses that are contaminated by hazardous waste or pollution. Often located in busy commercial or industrial areas, they have the potential to be put back on the tax rolls once they are cleaned up. The problem is County law currently does not allow for these properties to be sold at a price lower than what is owed in back taxes. The State’s Land Bank law, adopted last summer, encourages developers to purchase properties by allowing them to be sold at price lower than the outstanding tax lien, however the developer is responsible for the remediation.
“All across Suffolk County, communities are struggling to cope with vacant, abandoned, and tax-delinquent properties, resulting in lost revenue to the county and leading to deterioration of neighborhoods and business districts,” said County Executive Bellone. “This Land Bank will finally give Suffolk County a tool to put dozens of brownfields in the hands of private individuals where they can be cleaned up and restored to good use.”
According to the Suffolk County Brownfields Taskforce, at least 83 brownfield sites comprised of 76.8 acres, representing more than $20 million in uncollected tax revenue, would qualify for remediation under the new entity. These parcels are located in communities all over Suffolk County from Babylon to Southold. Taxpayers are further shielded from any additional costs because board members will serve without pay and existing County employees will staff the land bank.
Bellone developed the measure in consultation with Legislators Gregory and Cilmi. Last fall, Gregory authored legislation requiring the County Planning Department to study the feasibility and efficacy of creating a land bank in Suffolk County. At last week’s Economic Development Committee meeting of the Legislature, Planning Director Sarah Lansdale gave a report and endorsed Gregory’s plan to create a land bank corporation specifically to remediate and repopulate some of the 76 acres that currently blight the County in communities across Suffolk County.
“I want to thank the County Executive and my colleagues for supporting this measure,” stated Gregory. “Creation of a land bank will not only spur development in some of the County’s hardest hit communities it will also reduce groundwater and environmental contamination. When you can grow the economy and preserve the environment at the same time then you really are creating long-term sustainability.”
“This is an out of the box solution to a problem which has significantly impacted the County and our communities for years,” stated Legislator Cilmi. “Brownfields have a negative impact on our economy, on our environment and on our neighborhoods. This bill gives us the ability to get these properties cleaned up and back on the tax rolls. It’s good for the taxpayers and good for communities. With this program, everyone wins.”
“The Long Island Strategic Plan, which was developed with significant public input in 2011, calls out as a key strategy the “revitalization of downtowns, blighted areas & commercial centers by providing incentives to stimulate the redevelopment of vacant, abandoned & blighted properties,” said Andrea Lohneiss, Regional Director of the Empire State Development Corporation and Executive Director of the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council, who spoke to the Legislature about this resolution. “At least four of the Transformative Projects receiving a portion of the $101.6M in funds awarded to Long Island involve the redevelopment of blighted commercial areas (Wyandanch, Hempstead Village, Ronkonkoma, and Central Islip). The utilization of a land bank in Suffolk as a mechanism to consolidate for redevelopment properties that have suffered from disinvestment would be consistent with the LI Strategic Plan. These properties are often brownfields and/or are difficult for the county to sell pursuant to the limitations of the Suffolk County Tax Act.”
“A land bank offers a simple solution to a complicated problem. It provides a mechanism for remediation and redevelopment of abandon properties that are currently environmental, public health and economic threats to our local communities. Reclaiming these lands promotes responsible growth while allowing for potential groundwater threats to be cleaned up. Citizens Campaign for the Environment applauds County Executive Bellone for thinking outside the box to employ a strategy that saves taxpayers money, promotes reuse of developed lands and helps to revitalize local communities,” said Adrienne Esposito, Executive Director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment.
Creating the non-profit corporation is the first step before submitting an application to New York State’s Empire State Development Corporation for authorization. The law would establish a Board of Directors of the Corporation consisting of seven members with representation from the County Executive, Legislature, the County Health Department and County Attorney, town government, and the environmental community.
The County Executive introduced the measure at today’s meeting in order to allow Suffolk to qualify for the State’s first round of authorization and to also become eligible for federal funding that the County could qualify for this summer. Once the board is formed, members will begin meeting to determine which of the current stock of brownfields have the greatest potential for development.
Story provided by Vanessa Baird-Streeter (From the office of County Executive Bellone)