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Council hears land bank update


SIDNEY — Information about the goals, events and photos of some of its Shelby County Land Bank properties was presented to Sidney City Council at its Monday evening meeting.

Doug Ahlers, director of the Shelby County Land Reutilization Corporation (commonly known as the Shelby County Land Bank) said the organization’s goal is to “stabilize property values ​​by removing and greening or rehabilitating a to four family residential properties in Shelby County”.

“Demolition is an essential part of strategies to stabilize and improve home values,” he said. “Most property is obtained through tax foreclosures, Ahlers said, deeds in lieu of foreclosures, donations and purchases.”

Funding originally came from the city of Sidney, county villages, and donations from county commissioners. Since then, Ahler said, he’s been on a Housing Improvement Program grant. This grant has now expired. It is now funded by a portion, about 5%, of the county’s Delinquent Tax and Assessment Collections Fee (DTAC), or about $55,000 to $60,000 a year, as well as money from the rollover of properties, he said.

Since 2017, the land reserve has acquired 101 properties. In the city of Sidney, they acquired 84; of these, 10 properties were sold and renovated. Many of the oldest properties are located within five blocks of downtown Sidney.

Approximately $1.2 million in grants was spent on these demolitions.

“We get referrals, look at overdue taxes and vacant properties. The problem is not so much finding the properties. It’s finding motivated people who are ready to get rid of properties. A typical question is, “What’s in it for me?” Ahler said, noting that “foreclosures are a long and expensive process.”

The land bank is not code enforcement, he said, while also praising the city’s code enforcement office for handling such issues in Sidney.

Ahler then began by posting a series of interior and exterior photos of the deteriorated properties that the land bank often takes possession of, and detailed the long and expensive process of demolishing the structures. In addition to photos, he provided the financial breakdown of properties that exceeded the $25,000 they were entitled to reimbursement for, which caused the nonprofit to lose up to $6,623.60 on a particular property. The unexpectedly high cost came from scenarios such as vertical land bank, asbestos, and tire removal costs, which resulted in lower land bank finances.

Challenges for the land bank include trying to stay on budget and trying to acquire properties at a faster pace. The biggest properties cost the most to demolish, have the most trash and have the most tires on site, Ahler pointed out. Inputs take time and capacity is limited. It’s a challenge to convince landlords to sign a “deed in lieu of foreclosure,” and it’s a challenge to acquire more properties through donations.

Among some of the donated properties was the Alpha Center. The Alpha Center is a community outreach organization aimed at meeting the basic essential needs of adults, families and children at risk. It may be the homeless, drug addicts, the disabled and mentally ill, or an elderly person on a fixed income. The land reserve continues to own this property but leases it to Center Alpha. The original structure was demolished and in its place was built “three duplexes for six unique addresses” which are located adjacent to the center on Court Street for the purposes of the Alpha Center program, Ahler said.

A big project for the land bank, which it now owns, is the ownership of the Wagner Ware manufacturing plant. Ahler said a grant application was submitted Dec. 20, 2021, for $2.8 million to demolish the property. The total cost of demolition is estimated at $4.5 million.

The Wagner Ware site was originally the former foundry of the Wagner Manufacturing Company which produced cast iron and aluminum products until 1952. The building had multiple owners until metal finishing manufacturer Master Vision Polishing closed the site in 2008. Prior to Master Vision Polishing’s withdrawal in 2008, Director of Community Development Barbara Dulworth said in 2016 that there were already issues with the building’s poor condition. Thereafter, it continued to deteriorate due to neglect and vandalism.

“It’s teamwork. The city of Sydney has been working on this for so many years. SSEP (Sidney-Shelby Economic Partnership) is on board, city, county, land bank. The land bank is just there because we had the opportunity to seize, but it will continue to do so – so the subsidy will come in and continue to be there to clean it up,” Ahlers said.

Wagner site redevelopment funds include $1 million in the State of Ohio Capital Budget which is earmarked for Sidney, the $2.8 million land bank grant, $500,000 from the City of Sidney and $250,000 from Shelby County, for a total of $4.5 million.

Deputy Mayor Steve Wagner thanked Ahler for his hard work and said he was supposed to be retired, but took on the land bank role that turned into a full-time job.

Ahler thanked Wagner for the acknowledgment and said when people asked for a timeline on the property, his response was that it would probably take a few years. Ahler said he thinks the grant will be awarded before then, but with the government things are not moving quickly.

Mayor Mardie Milligan thanked him for all his work and that she, along with everyone else, looks forward to Wagner’s redevelopment.

In other business, all present sang happy birthday to City Manager Andrew Bowsher, whose birthday was Tuesday. After receiving best wishes, he then recalled that the city’s public offices will be closed on Monday, February 21, 2022, on Presidents’ Day. Garbage pickup will be delayed one day all week.

An aerial view of the dilapidated former Wagner Ware manufacturing plant at 440 Fair Road that was taken by drone in 2018.