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Council panel OKs 'strategic plan' for Philly Land Bank

Executive summary outlines blueprints for dealing with vacant, dilapidated properties.

THE PROPOSED master plan for the Philadelphia Land Bank cleared a major hurdle yesterday when it gained the approval of City Council's Public Property and Public Works Committee.

The land bank - Philly's first - is a budding quasi-governmental agency that will soon consist of a smorgasbord of vacant, blighted and tax-delinquent public-owned properties across the city. Its purpose is to streamline the acquisition and disposition of vacant real estate and transform it into productive use.

The proposed Land Bank Strategic Plan offers recommendations in its executive summary, such as reporting the sale and reuse of property during its first year of operations and beginning the complex process of transferring all city-owned properties to the land bank, for starters. It lays out a timeline of target goals to be achieved over the next five years.

"Vacancy is a citywide problem. The land bank is an opportunity to address that problem," said Scott Page, an author of the plan and one of many advocates who testified yesterday before the committee.

"Highlights of the strategic plan include identifying what, where and how many potential land-bank properties there are. . . . We think this is a powerful implementation tool."

Page said Philadelphia has 32,000 potential land-bank properties.

"This is a menu of options," he said of the strategic plan.

More than two dozen people testified in support of adopting the plan, from representatives of the building trades to community-development corporations to land-preservation alliances.

"We believe that the driving principles behind the strategic plan as it's written - particularly the goal of reinforcing open-space initiatives and urban agriculture - will be tremendously valuable in our city's push to reduce vacant land," said Nancy Goldberg, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.

Some Council members seemed to support those sentiments.

"We're a long way from having a fully implemented process, but this strategic plan is an excellent first step to laying the vital groundwork that we need to do," said Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez, primary sponsor of the original land-bank legislation.

If the strategic plan is approved by the full Council, the land bank can begin identifying properties slated for reuse, give formal notice of public hearings on those parcels and invite input from neighbors before taking action.