While you wouldn’t know it from looking at Center or University Cities, Philadelphia has an enormous amount of vacant land scarring the cityscape --
some 40,000 parcels, to be exact
. The scourge of vacant land twists its way through South and Southwest Philly, flexes into West Philly, rolls into North Philly, and extends into Northeast and Northwest Philly. Given the citywide nature of the vacancy problem and its mounting costs, the Nutter administration, City Council, and the state House and Senate all seem eager to address it. In fact, Mayor Nutter appears ready to release a new plan on vacant land, while the state Senate may soon begin debate on a bill to set up land banks to deal with vacant land.
Philadelphia’s managing director is just about done with the city’s new vacant land plan, according to Rick Sauer, the executive director of the Philadelphia Association of CDCs (PACDC)
. The city’s upcoming proposal only deals with city-owned land (only about 25 percent of all vacant parcels), and thus does not push for a land bank for privately held vacant land. Advocates see the Nutter administration’s plan as a step in the right direction, even if it might not go as far as they would like. “The administration is trying to create a rational process for vacant land,” says Karen Black, the principal at May 8 Consulting
, a firm that has worked with PACDC on vacant land issues.
The Nutter administration’s ideas come on the heels of a land bank bill written by Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez and co-sponsored by Councilman Bill Green
last month. Black confirms that this bill aims to consolidate ownership of vacant land into one land bank, which means it goes substantially further than the bill being drafted by the mayor’s office. She adds that City Council hearings on Sanchez and Green’s bill might kick off as soon as May.
There is also support for dealing with vacant land at the state level, with legislation being proposed that is similar to the land bank bill in City Council. Black informs us that the state House passed a land bank bill by Philadelphia Rep. John Taylor in February. She enthusiastically points out that this bill would enable private properties to be sold directly into a land bank, without the city having to change its charter.
Meanwhile, on the state Senate side, there is also some hearty support for land bank legislation. Senator David Argall, a Republican who represents parts of Berks, Lehigh, and other counties north and west of the Philly suburbs, has introduced a bill in the Senate designed to be a companion to the bill that passed the House. Black reassures that the passage of the House bill might mean action in the Senate is imminent.
Black and Sauer are unequivocal about the neighborhood blight caused by vacant land. “Vacant properties have a significant negative impact on property values,” laments Sauer, who conducted a study with the city Re-Development Authority (PRA)
on vacant land in late 2010. Sauer elaborates that the study found a 6 to 20% loss in property values caused by the presence of nearby vacant land. He also lambastes vacant properties as havens for drug activity, arson, and illicit dumping, which entail significant quality-of-life problems. PACDC’s study found that vacant land cost the city $20 million each year in maintenance costs.
Karen Black, May 8 Consulting and Rick Sauer, PACDC