JEFFERSON CITY – The Missouri Senate overwhelming approved legislation allowing Kansas City to establish a land bank to deal with vacant and abandoned property.
The bill is now just one vote in the Missouri House away from going to Gov. Jay Nixon. Its sponsor, Republican Rep. Noel Torpey of Independence, said he is confident the bill will be voted out today or tomorrow.
The idea of the land bank is to establish a local entity with the authority to acquire vacant properties and set them aside for rehab or resale so that they can be put back on the tax rolls.
Currently, properties that are in such a state of disrepair that they go unsold at tax sale auctions are turned over to the Land Trust of Jackson County. But the trust has no budget to maintain or fix the properties and only has the authority to sell them to private investors willing to pay at least two-thirds of the value.
“I know from my time in Jackson County government that the land trust is broken,” said Senate Minority Leader Victor Callahan, an Independence Democrat. “What we came up with is a very transparent way to handle blighted property while still protecting property owner rights.”
So far this year, Callahan said the Jackson County Land Trust has added 725 pieces of property to its inventory but only sold 24.
"The whole goal of the land bank is to get those properties out of the government's hands and back into private ownership," Callahan said.
In addition to receiving tax-foreclosed properties that do not sell at auction, the land bank would have the ability to bid on properties at auction, as long as those properties are located within a low to moderate income areas. It would have the authority to borrow money and issue bonds but would not have the power of eminent domain.
Rep. John Rizzo, a Kansas City Democrat, says his district has struggled with urban blight for years. Passage of land bank legislation would have a tremendous impact, he said.
“I think this is the biggest legislative victory for Kansas City so far this year, and I think it’s a huge one,” Rizzo said.
One key change to the bill that won over critics was an amendment proposed by Republican Sen. Luanne Ridgeway of Smithville that prohibits the land bank from selling more than five contiguous parcels to the same entity. This was done, Ridgeway said, to keep the land bank from assembling large swaths of property and holding on to them for years in the hopes of a massive future development.
Audrey Spalding, a policy analyst for the conservative think tank the Show-Me Institute, said she’s concerned limiting the number of parcels that can be sold to one buyer could one day thwart a quality development in a blighted area.
“I’d hate to have a situation arrive where this accidentally prohibits a good development from moving forward,” said Spalding, who has been critical of the push to establish a Kansas City land bank.
Torpey said the change was not a big deal.
“A parcel can be enormous in size or very small,” Torpey said. “So I think the impact of the change will be very small.”