Johnstown says no to Mohawk Valley Economic Development District land bank

JOHNSTOWN – The city won’t be joining the Mohawk Valley Economic Development District’s six-county land bank.

Officials representing the land bank had pushed the Common Council to make a decision on the land bank for the past several months, promoting it as a good economic development tool for the city.

At a meeting Tuesday, Interim Mayor Cindy Lakata announced the city won’t be involved in the land bank.

“The council has come to the consensus the land bank is not a good fit with the city of Johnstown,” she said.

The council members at the meeting agreed.

A land bank involves renovating blighted, derelict properties to get them back on the tax rolls.

The Common Council voted in May to support the land bank idea, but hadn’t formally involved the city via a resolution since then.

Gloversville 3rd Ward Councilman Vincent DeSantis, a representative of the Gloversville Housing and Neighborhood Improvement Corp., and Tolga Morawski, chairman of Keep Mohawk Valley Beautiful, a standing committee of the MVEDD, addressed the Johnstown council three separate times at City Hall to see where the city stood.

Through a land bank, Fulton, Montgomery, Herkimer, Oneida, Otsego and Schoharie counties seek state money for the land bank, which buys foreclosed properties and makes them available for sale to developers or builders. Gloversville has supported the plan. Fulton County legislators haven’t taken action.

DeSantis told the Johnstown council $17.3 million will be available to local municipalities to aid them through the land bank. The MVEDD land bank itself can access between $1 million and $4 million, he said.

Morawski had said land bank funding is from foreclosure settlements involving financial institutions, not from taxpayers.

DeSantis told city officials having Johnstown involved in the land bank was a “no-brainer.” He said Fulton County officials fear giving up local control to a regional entity, but that is untrue. He said land bank municipalities have total control over every property they foreclose on.

Lakata said she will now formally contact Morawski regarding Johnstown’s decision.

DeSantis said today the “newness” of the land bank idea may have led to the apprehension by some government officials.

“The land bank is kind of a new thing.” he said. “It was an idea that was broached by the state.”

He said he thinks smaller cities may feel the regional aspect may also not be good for them. He said there is much “misinformation” about land banks. But DeSantis predicted this area’s six-county land bank will be approved.

DeSantis said that once municipalities see the benefits of the land bank in cities such as Utica, Rome and Amsterdam, they may support them more.

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