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Banking on change

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Land bank proposals are all the rage in government this year. Since the Legislature passed land bank authority legislation last year, the state has created one that’s up and running; the city of Detroit’s been wrangling since spring with a proposal to create an authority; and now Wayne County’s stepping up to the plate.

The idea behind a land bank is to collect tax-reverted, derelict properties, of which the county has roughly 3,800. It’s something like a real estate broker crossed with a fire sale — land-banked property can be sold at varied prices and in bundles attractive to developers. It also has a legal advantage when it comes to clearing title, and is automatically eligible for state environmental rehabilitation credits.

Detroit’s proposed land bank has been held up for months as some members of City Council argued over whether a land bank is advisable and others negotiated with the Kilpatrick administration about the makeup of the board that would govern the authority.

The same problems may plague a proposal brought to the Wayne County Commission by County Executive Robert Ficano and County Treasurer Ray Wojtowicz last week.

It’s the second land bank proposal the commission has seen this year. It voted down the first proposal last spring.

Wojtowicz speculates that unfamiliarity with the concept was responsible for the first proposal’s demise. “I think that the commission wasn’t too sure on how a land bank would operate,” Wojtowicz says.

Another strike against the proposal was the authority appointments — the five-member board comprised Wojtowicz, one commission appointee and three Ficano appointees.

In the current proposal, the board has the same makeup. That aspect, Wojtowicz says, isn’t open to negotiation. But he says he thinks it will get a better reception this time around, based on conversations he’s had with several commission members.

Commission chair Jewel Ware thinks it’s too early to comment on the most recent proposal, says commission spokesman Bill Johnson, who explains that the proposal must go through the commission’s research and analysis division before it can come up for a vote, a process that could take weeks.

The commission’s last meeting in 2005 is Dec. 15, making it possible, but not likely, that there’ll be a vote on the proposal this year, Johnson says.

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