Economic Development

Columbiana County Land Bank Rehabs 15 Houses

LISBON — Although it has spent close to $2 million tearing down dilapidated homes, the Columbiana County Land Utilization Corp. is also interested in beautification, according to its executive director Bobby Ritchey.

During Wednesday’s meeting of the land bank committee, Ritchey offered a list of properties that have received attention through the program, reporting that a total of 179 have been demolished while another 15 originally marked for tear-down have now been rehabilitated.

Of that close to $2 million spent on tear-downs, $1.3 million was spent in East Liverpool, $460,000 in Wellsville and $175,000 in Salem, according to Ritchey, who said 24 houses were just recently completed in that targeted area, with another nine — six in East Liverpool and three in Salem — still being worked on.

“Basically, we have taken everything we can from the auditor’s list and now we’re working on a couple with private donations to be included in the next batch,” Ritchey told the committee. “We’re trying to work hard with the prosecutor to acquire what we can.”

The Neighborhood Initiative Program implemented in the targeted area of East Liverpool, Salem and Wellsville has been made possible through the Hardest Hit Fund, with 50 land banks in the state of Ohio each receiving a percentage.

Ritchey explained, “We pay for the tear downs then send the paperwork to the state, and we’re reimbursed by the state.”

Also available to the land bank through the Delinquent Tax and Assessment Collections program is a percentage of delinquent taxes collected by the county treasurer’s office, used for demolition of properties outside the target area, such as East Palestine, Leetonia, Salineville, Liverpool Township and St. Clair Township.

While tear-downs are the most common through the program Ritchey said the 15 houses that have been rehabbed are “pretty impressive, considering the shape some are in (initially).” Some of these have been completed, while some are still under renovation, with two more due to get underway in coming weeks. 

Ritchey reported that 83 properties are also involved in the “mow to own” program through the land bank, which allows property owners adjacent to a torn down home to eventually acquire the vacant lot once they maintain it for a certain period of time.

“We have a lot more coming up. A lot of people are calling about it and filling out the agreement. It’s a successful program that gets a lot of adjacent property owners involved,” Ritchey said

After the meeting, Ritchey talked about some of the residents who have benefited from having eyesores removed from beside their properties, recollecting one woman in particular who said she had looked out her window for years at a dilapidated home and overgrown weeds.

Now that the house beside her has been removed, she told Ritchey, “I can look out my window and see the river again.”

The director said the committee also prides itself on hiring several local contractors to raze the structures and local businesses to keep the grass mowed on those lots not under a Mow to Own contract. 

In recent months, the land bank also decided to provide $5,000 beautification grants to each of the three target communities, with Heritage Thermal Services kicking in an additional $1,000 for East Liverpool.

He reported to the committee that, at the recommendation of Wellsville Mayor Nancy Murray, the village’s $5,000 grant was used to restore the historic fountains on Broadway Park, which are now operational.

In Salem, a fountain project was completed in Centennial Park, with a prairie garden to be installed at Waterworth Memorial Park.

Ritchey said he is waiting for plans from East Liverpool Councilman Ernest Peachey for purchasing equipment for city playgrounds. Initially, Peachey’s recreation committee had planned to build a new playground in the Pleasant Heights neighborhood with the money, but Ritchey said it was decided the $6,000 would not be sufficient for such a project and would be better spread around existing facilities.

“Aesthetically, we don’t want to be known just for tearing down houses but for beautifying neighborhoods,” Ritchey said.

The committee voted during the meeting to accept the resignation of member Pete Monteleone, former East Palestine village manager, and then voted to name Traci Spratt, the village’s interim manager and finance director, to the seat. 

Member Jim Hall, who has announced he is not seeking re-election to his seat on St. Clair Township Trustees, asked how his position on the committee will be filled, but he was advised he can continue on the committee since his position is one of three selected by the three statutory members.

Pictured at top: This home on Lincoln Avenue in East Liverpool was scheduled for demolition but was saved and renovated as a rental home under the county’s Land Bank program. It is one of 15 such rehabilitation projects in the program.

Copyright 2019 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.