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Politics & Government

Land Bank Legislation Passes in Pittsburgh City Council

After three months of community meetings, disagreements, and compromises, Pittsburgh City Council passed Councilwoman Deb Gross’s land bank legislation Monday morning.

Councilmen Ricky Burgess and Daniel Lavelle have had the greatest concerns about the land bank proposal, but both voted in favor of the legislation.

Burgess has consistently pointed out that his and Lavelle’s districts are home to the greatest number of land bank eligible properties, and both were in favor of maintaining council and community oversight of the process.

“Any land bank legislation has to provide community protection, community participation and community benefits,” Burgess said after the vote. “The bill that we passed does the three things I have advocated for.”

Burgess and Lavelle, along with Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith, favored amendments that put three community members on the land bank board and instituted council oversight for all sales for at least two years.

“I don’t see any council member wanting to run this indefinitely,” Kail-Smith said. “I think we just want to build some trust, and I think we’re on our way to do that with all the amendments … and everyone working together.”

Indeed, most members of Council had kind words for one another ahead of the final vote on a piece of legislation that has spurred considerable controversy.

“I think it’s a great piece of legislation,” Council President Bruce Kraus said. “I think it’s going to help us transform this city, and I hope that this kind of process serves as a template for future engagement.”

Councilwoman Darlene Harris cast the sole no vote, saying that three months was not enough time for full community engagement. She also said the city’s real estate department already functions as a land bank, and expressed concern over how the program would be funded.

“How do we know the land bank will be able to fund itself, and the city will not get stuck with this bill?” Harris asked her colleagues. “Lots of talk about money from foundations, but nobody knows how long that money is going to last. That money does not last forever.”

The bill will now go to the Pennsylvania Department of State for final approval. Gross said in the meantime, the nine member interim land bank board will begin writing the bylaws for the entity.

“Land disposition will have to wait until policies and procedures are nailed down, and because of the lengthy community engagement process, we may not see that this year,” Gross said.