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Highland County land bank board takes action on numerous properties during January meeting

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Pictured (l-r) are attorney Todd Book, Highland County Land Bank Coordinator Jason Johansen and Highland County Land Reutilization Corporation board president Terry Britton. (HCP Photo/Caitlin Forsha)
Caitlin Forsha, The Highland County Press

The Highland County Land Reutilization Corporation (land bank) board took action on the sale, acquisition and/or demolition of numerous county properties during their monthly meeting Thursday, Jan. 18.

First on the agenda was the consideration of three properties in the city of Hillsboro, all of which are owned by the land bank and currently listed at $9,000 each. Highland County Land Bank Coordinator Jason Johansen said that although they have had some interest, there have been “no serious” offers on any of the properties. He invited several potential buyers to the meeting — two of whom did not attend — to hear possibilities on “what amount we could agree to” in order to sell the parcels.

After discussion, the board voted 5-0 to accept a suggestion by board member David Daniels to accept sealed bids for the parcels — located at 229 East South St., 622 South East St. and 453 East Main St. — with a minimum bid of $4,000, to be submitted by Feb. 1 at 4 p.m. 

“I believe they all meet [the City of Hillsboro’s] zoning requirements for the lot dimensions as of right now,” board member Lauren Walker said. “It would have to be a residential structure [built on the parcel]. You can't build an accessory structure without a principal structure.”

Daniels asked what the land bank’s costs were for each parcel. Johansen said that all three lots were cleared using grant funding, and board president Terry Britton said that there was probably less than $1,000 in expenses per lot.

Daniels presented the $4,000 idea “as a starting point.” Legal counsel Todd Book said that Johansen could reach out to the prospective buyers and let them know that "the board has decided that they'll accept sealed bids” for the parcels.

Progress was also made on plans for the next round of the state’s Building Demolition and Site Revitalization grant program. Highland County will again have a $500,000 set-aside through the next round of the Ohio Building Demolition and Site Revitalization Program, as announced by the Governor’s Office in October. The land bank also has $77,895 in remaining funding from the first iteration of the program, which they are still permitted to use.

Five properties were removed from the land bank board’s previously approved list, and 12 were added, giving them a total of 38 parcels that are tentatively slated for cleanup.

Removed from the list were three parcels (one in the city of Hillsboro and two in Dodson Township) that have been purchased since the land bank board first selected them. Also removed were an underground storage tank at the former Buford School site and a property on Jefferson Street in the Village of Greenfield, as both of those have been moved to the list for potential Brownfield Remediation grant funding, Johansen said.

The 12 new properties to target for funding, as approved by the board Thursday, include one in the City of Hillsboro; three other properties in Liberty Township; two Paint Township parcels; and one each in Brushcreek, Clay, Dodson, New Market, Penn and Union Townships.

Those parcels are in addition to 12 properties in the City of Hillsboro; five in Dodson Township; two each in Paint and Salem Townships; and one each in Brushcreek, Fairfield, Marshall, Penn and Union Townships that were already selected.

In related action, the HCLRC board also unanimously approved a request from Johansen to commit to a $50,000 match for the Building Demolition program in order to “get as much done as we can” during this funding round.

“Our bank account right now sits at about $485,000,” Johansen said. “With this program, we definitely can get a lot done, so I'd like to dig into that account a little bit.

“For every $50,000 that we put up, the Department of Development would match $150,000, so then we would now have $700,000.”

Johansen added that any unexpended set-asides from the 88 counties “will go back into a pool of funding,” and “that’s where the $50,000 would come from.

“If we end up not needing the full $700,000, it just gets submitted back, or if we're approved for it, we have until May of 2026,” Johansen said. “Over the next course of the next year, projects could be brought to us, and we would have that funding to get those to get those projects going.”

Johansen also told the board that during the first round of projects — where 18 properties were clean up — the average cost was $16,500, as a total of $298,150 was spent using grant dollars.

“With 38 properties, this will just give us flexibility and room to get as much done as we can,” he said.

Britton said he thought it was “a wise move,” and a motion by board member Randy Mustard to approve the proposal passed, 5-0.

For the new round of the Brownfield Remediation Program (for which the county has a $1 million set-aside), the board approved a list of four projects to submit for assessments. TetraTech will again be serving as environmental consultant, as they did the consulting work for the land bank’s previous Brownfield projects (which included the former East Monroe Mill and former Rocky Fork Truck Stop).

Along with the aforementioned Buford tank and parcel in Greenfield (a former machine shop), also approved were a parcel believed to contain an underground storage tank in East Monroe and a former gas station in Hillsboro.

Allison Young, a project manager with TetraTech, provided a brief update on the county’s Brownfield project at the former Rocky Fork Truck Stop. She said that the company is “actively working with BUSTR,” the Bureau of Underground Storage Tank Regulations, to finalize their report.

“After that, we'll be working on closing out the grant and will be finished with that project,” Young said. “Soil is good. Groundwater is going to need some additional monitoring, which we’ll work with the property owner. They're aware, and it shouldn't impact their plans for redevelopment, which is the critical thing.”

From a grant disbursement standpoint, Johansen said that they have filed their 2023 fourth-quarter report with the state, and the “current drawdown balance for the project is $39,334.03.”

In other discussion:

• Johansen reviewed a list of other properties that have been brought to the land bank board’s attention recently or were already on their radar. 

Britton asked Johansen to submit two new properties — one on Evelyn Road at Rocky Fork Lake and one on Pence Road outside of Hillsboro — to the prosecutor’s office for potential tax foreclosure. Johansen said that the Evelyn Road property has a neighbor interested in purchasing it, but efforts to reach the property owner have been unsuccessful. They have also not been able to find the owner of the Pence Road parcel, he said.

The North Shore Road property has two parcels that total over $28,000 in back taxes, Johansen said, and he thought the family may be interested in donating it. However, a title search revealed an abandoned trailer on the property with some confusion over its ownership.

“Outside of this trailer that's kind of an issue of who owns what and trying to get that cleaned up, there are a few dower issues and the chain of title, which is just a technical problem where people transferred property without identifying whether they were married or not married, or having a spouse sign off if there was a spouse involved,” Book said. “We have to do some affidavits to clean that up, but it's not overly burdensome to do that.”

The board then voted 5-0 to authorize Johansen and/or Book to move forward with the potential acquisition of four other properties.

The first was a parcel north of Leesburg on U.S. 62 that had been “forfeited to the state of Ohio in 2014,” according to Johansen, and did not sell during sheriff’s sales. Johansen said that he and Book would be meeting with Highland County Auditor Alex Butler “to see what we need to do to get that property possibly into the land bank’s name.

“The adjacent property owner has been caring for the property for many years,” Johansen said. “The neighbor had a survey completed in 2008, to show that the land is actually 1.7 acres, rather than the 16.48 acres on the auditor's website. According to the neighbor, he believes that the land had been part of a large farm, and when the farm was parceled off, the remaining acreage was put to that piece of property.”

Book explained that state law has a provision that land banks are able to acquire forfeited land via transfer from the county auditor, to “clean up the tax issue” and potentially sell.

The board then agreed to take action on three parcels submitted by the Village of Greenfield for consideration, as Greenfield Law Director Hannah Bivens and Finance Director  Gary Lewis were among those in attendance Thursday. 

One parcel on McClain Avenue is “currently in receivership with the Village of Greenfield,” Johansen said, but Fannie Mae has “owned this property since 2005.” There is an interested buyer.

“They [the village] believe this would be a good property for the land bank to pursue for demolition, and the land bank would be able to clear the back taxes on that,” Johansen said. “We could get the title, the village would dismiss their suit and provide contact information for the interested buyer.”

Book added that this particular property is “an example where land banks and local governments can work together to clean up some problems.

“The local entity here started this receivership,” Book said. “We have a situation where Fannie Mae, the one that has the mortgage and actually the owner of the property at this point, is willing to sign over to a land bank or to whoever, and us as a land bank with the ability to have the back taxes removed and things of that nature, we're in a prime position to take advantage of that.

“The village has also pointed out that there's a buyer for this property, so if we use the grant monies to have any cleanup done, we may actually come out on the positive after it's all said and done.”

The second Greenfield property, on Pine Street, was also suggested by the village as a candidate for Building Demolition funds. 

“They intend to file receivership, but if the land bank would rather take this one on, that would be helpful for them,” Johansen said. 

According to a title search by Bivens, there was a lien on the property from a bank, with a motion for foreclosure later dismissed, and the “mortgage was never released.

“That is why the owners don't think they own the property,” Johansen said. “It has been vacant and unattended since 2008.”

Book said the background was “kind of convoluted.

“This one is going to take some contact to the lender, to make sure that they're willing to sign off any interest they have, and then also the current owner, which I guess resides in the county, that they're willing to donate it,” Book said. “There’s a little bit more legwork, but I think it's worth pursuing.”

Finally, the board agreed to look into two parcels on Lafayette Street as a potential candidate for the state’s recently announced Welcome Home Ohio program.

As announced by the Ohio Governor’s Office, “The program will provide $100 million in grants over the course of the biennium for land banks to purchase, rehabilitate or build qualifying residential properties for income-eligible Ohioans. Additionally, $50 million in nonrefundable tax credits will be made available to land banks and eligible developers over the biennium for qualifying property rehabilitation and new construction once a property is sold.”

“Greenfield CIC is appointed as receiver, and they would like to save the property if possible,” Johansen said. “The repair is estimated at $100,000 right now, and we have a certificate of title that was provided. The CIC will demo the property if it is not a good Welcome Home Ohio candidate.”

Johansen said that the state has “a limit of $30,000 that you can apply for, for each project within the Welcome Home Ohio program.” However, Book said “there is a way you can move that number up.

“Obviously, housing is a premium in the county,” Book said. “If there's a way to rehab this and make it work, I think we should pursue it, but I think at this point, what we should probably do is do some more legwork and see if this makes sense and whether it would fall in that WHO program because I would love for us to take advantage of that. I mean, it's a lot of money, and it's designed to do rehab work specifically.”

Johansen also cautioned that unlike the Brownfield and Building Demolition programs, “there’s no set-aside money” for each county through the Welcome Home Ohio program, so they’re “not guaranteed” anything by submitting an application. According to the Governor’s Office, “The application period for the grants is open now through 11:59 p.m. Feb. 9, 2024, with rolling applications accepted from Feb. 12 to May 31, as funds are available. Tax credit applications will be accepted on a rolling basis until funds are expended.”

In other updates, a previously discussed property on Cathy’s Court, which has over $35,000 in back taxes due, is already on the prosecutor’s office list for tax foreclosure, and the 11 parcels formerly belonging to the Enchanted Hills Community Association are still in the expedited foreclosure process, Johansen said. 

The land bank is also trying to work with the Highland County Health Department to access three parcels on Taylor Street in Madison Township for potential grant-funded cleanup. 

“They [the Health Department] want to make sure that they have the authority to grant access,” Book said. “Other counties have, through their health department, have said, ‘OK, land bank, you can go and do the cleanup on this property. They consider it a nuisance, and as a nuisance, the health department can say ‘go, this is a nuisance, go fix it.’ It gives the land bank the authority to step in and do that cleanup. 

“They want to make sure that those other counties have been doing it properly, so we’re doing the legwork to make sure that the health department is comfortable with granting us access.”

Book added that it is “a priority” to have that ready ahead of the land bank board’s Feb. 15 meeting.

• After reviewing six quotes, the board voted 5-0 to award a contract to Ohio Technical Services to perform asbestos surveys on seven properties targeted for cleanup using remaining funds from the first round of the Building Demolition and Site Revitalization program.

Johansen said the quotes he received were for “surveys, not abatements,” and were based on 36 properties, which was the number the land bank had at the time the estimates were obtained. Proposals included: Ohio Technical Services, $14,400; Industrial Installation Specialists, $15,255; Rainbow Environmental, $15,300; H&H Environmental, $19,600; Aster Oilfield Services, $25,200; and One Atlas, $46,700.

Daniels said they would need “to have some sort of a dive into why we should select somebody other than” the apparent low bidder. As Johansen said they had “no reason to disqualify” them, the board approved their offer.

Book also asked about a timeline for getting the seven properties done. Johansen said the contractors said they “would work with us” because he told them “we would need to expedite” those particular parcels.

“We need to have them done by May 1,” Book said. “The bids are back February 2.” 

• The board approved the financial reports for November and December as presented by Johansen. For November, the HCLRC began the month with a balance of $466,138.56 and ended with a balance of $464,991.06, with the balance at the end of December being $485,881.35. Deposits were primarily reimbursements for state grants, while expenses included paying a contractor for mowing; Johansen’s salary and expenses; Book’s legal fees; title searches conducted by Gregory VanZant; accounting, advertising and utility expenses; and other incidentals, such as stamps and office supplies. 

A lengthy list of outstanding bills was also approved for payment during the financial reports. Those invoices included utility bills; rent payments; invoices from TetraTech; Johansen’s salary and expenses; Book’s legal fees; advertising quotes; other bills such as office supplies; and a reimbursement to the Highland County Commissioners Office for paying Millhuff-Stang for the land bank’s 2022 financial audit.

• Britton noted that once construction is completed on various county buildings, Johansen’s office will be moving to the Highland County Administration Building.

• The board approved hiring Millhuff-Stang to complete an independent financial review for 2023.

The board is next scheduled to meet Feb. 15 at the Highland County Administration Building.


sally hinton (not verified)

19 January 2024

we need help throughout Highland County ! please apply for a trap and release program ! we need help ! it is the county problem not the humane society ? or the pound ! it is the county problem ! if we get bit the people will bill the county !

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