In their first meeting since November, members of the Highland County Land Reutilization Corporation heard a proposal Jan. 21 for selling some of their properties near Rocky Fork Lake, while plans for another proposed acquisition in the area were described as “stuck” for now.

As previously reported, Highland County Community Action Organization Housing Director Mark Current told the land bank board in November that two parcels on Cinderella Drive failed to receive any bids. The board made a motion for Current to do a “blast” promoting the property to area Realtors.

Current said Thursday that no area Realtors have shown interest yet, but the land bank could pursue an opportunity with the Highland County Board of DD.

Larry Gray of the Highland County Board of DD, who attended the meeting, said that they might be interested in these parcels and possibly other properties being pursued by the land bank.

“There is some money coming down, money available at the state level,” Current said. “Larry has secured some of that money for Highland County. There is a group, Highland Housing, that like Highland County Community Action, they have houses — I believe about 10 properties right now — and they rent to folks with developmental disabilities.”

Current said the board could be interested in building “a new home, probably 3 bedrooms or so, on that lot.”

“It might be an option to help both the land bank and DD as well,” Current said.

Gray told the board that he is working to secure properties in both Highland and Fayette counties and that they need to “move quick.”

“We still have a need for homes in this community for a lot of different folks we serve,” Gray said.

Current also addressed the issue of a potential conflict of interest.

“With Community Action administering the land bank and then also buying property from the land bank, that doesn’t look quite right,” Current said. “Even though we manage Highland Housing homes, their homes being to the Highland Housing board. I think it would be a different situation.”

Board member Terry Britton said he thought “it could be a good partnership, if we can do it legally.” Fellow board member Jeff Duncan invited Gray to “keep the channels open here and see if we can’t get something worked out.”

• • •

In another update, Current said that he had “high hopes” for the Rocky Fork Truck Stop property until Tuesday of this week, but now, he said, they are “stuck” until further notice.

As previously reported, the HCLRC heard a proposal for acquiring and cleaning up the former Rocky Fork Truck Stop location through a state grant program at their Thursday, July 23 meeting.

At that meeting, Current said the property, located at 12410 U.S. 50, had $10,578.51 in back taxes owed. Matthew Wagner of Tetra Tech spoke to the land bank board in July regarding the Abandoned Gas Station Cleanup Grant, which he said they could pursue if the land bank acquired the property.

However, Current told the board in September that the Rocky Fork Truck Stop owners are now up-to-date on their taxes, so the county will not be foreclosing on the property.

“I spoke with Rockhold Bank, who holds the mortgage on that property,” Current said. “They told me that the original mortgage there, which I knew was $450,000, has been paid down some, but they wouldn’t tell me how much.”

Current said the bank indicated the landowner is hoping to sell the property, but the bank gave a message to the landowner, who then contacted Current. Current said the landowner has two “interested” potential buyers looking at the property but would let him know if that falls through.

Current explained to the landowner the potential environmental issues “with the tanks in the ground” that need cleaned and that the grant could cover that cost, but only if the land bank acquires the property.

Current said that Wagner verified the state Development Services Agency “would not pay for the removal of the tanks” if the property would fall back into the previous landowner’s possession, either by a transfer from the land bank or by selling it.

“It’s kind of stuck right now,” Current said. “We’ll keep an eye on it and see what happens.”

• • •

On Oct. 15, the board reviewed a list of eight potential properties for acquisition submitted by the city of Hillsboro, one of which (540 Johnson St.) was later removed as city code enforcement officer Lauren Walker said she would be taking legal action on the property.

For the remaining properties, Current told the board that two contractors have checked out the parcels, and there was “real interest in one of the homes and somewhat, I guess, questionable interest in two others.”

A home at 256 East Walnut Street has “major potential” and interest from both contractors. However, board member Karen Bridges pointed out that the land bank can’t take action on it at this time, as taxes were paid for the first half of 2019.

“We wouldn’t be able to do anything,” she said. “It’s not certified delinquent. It’s got to be certified delinquent for two years.”

In addition, contractors thought that 622 South East Street and 305 East South Street could possibly be rehabilitated, but were unsure due to being unable to access the inside of the homes. Other properties on the list would require them “to put more money into it then you’d ever get out of it, so they’d be demo-type situations,” Current said.

Board member Charles Guarino suggested that if the remaining Hillsboro properties are acquired, the land bank could put them in a joint bid packet to demolish the existing structures.

“We really don’t have a good handle on getting ahold of these properties yet,” Britton said. “We might be spinning our wheels a little bit.”

Guarino asked if any of the properties were eligible for foreclosure, since attempts have been made in recent months to contact property owners or their relatives.

“All these properties were tax-delinquent,” Walker said. “I didn’t know if they were in the foreclosure process or not. If they have violations against them for any kind of basic structure, I’m able to go that route, but if it’s only grass nuisance, I can’t really take that to court to take ownership of these properties. If they’re truly falling down, like 540 Johnson Street, that’s one that’s going to be filed with the court, and we’re able to demo it and solicit bids and all that.”

Guarino asked if the city could pursue demolition on the other properties that contractors advised needs to come down. Walker said they could, “if [the homes] have structural issues.”

“What do you think the city wants to do?” Guarino asked.

“If there were tax-delinquent ones that were being foreclosed on, then I feel like we should hold off,” Walker said. “If they’re not being foreclosed on, I can proceed.”

Bridges said 235 Willow Street is the only property on the list in the foreclosure process.

“If you want to hold off, I can proceed on our end,” Walker said. “We want to move on it, too. It’s kind of embarrassing that these properties have been sitting there that long.”

Guarino said “it sounds like it would be quicker” for the city to focus on the properties. Current asked if the city was able to remove the taxes.

“I’m not clear on that,” Walker said. “Everything that I’ve read, like with our CIC, that was one of my questions. Do we still have to pay the assessments on the property? I wasn’t 100-percent clear on that, and I actually just emailed Fred [Beery, city law director] this morning, asking that question.”

However, Walker said that “the city can’t acquire the land,” so it would likely have to go through a land bank eventually. “The land bank can remove the taxes,” Current said.

“How would we get involved after they work with the nuisance?” Guarino asked. “From a land bank standpoint, what do we need to do?”

Duncan said he had the same question on “how we could get them in our possession.”

“We would about have to do a title search on every one of them,” Current said. “If it has a mortgage on it, we technically can’t take it.”

Walker offered to speak to Beery to see if they could do some of the title searches and to clarify whether the taxes would fall on the city or not, before determining whether to take legal action or allow the properties to go through foreclosure.

“We’ll table this and wait to hear from you or Fred,” Guarino said.

• • •

In other updates:

• According to Current, attorney Greg VanZant advised the board “might be wasting [their] time” on attempts to obtain a property on Cameron Drive in Greenfield, due to several liens being placed on the property through the Ohio Department of Taxation.

Board member Randy Mustard asked “if the prosecutor’s office could do anything to help” acquire the property. “There’s got to be a way to go after that,” he said.

“I’ll find out,” Current said. “I took it that what Greg was talking about is the Ohio Department of Taxation, the reason they filed against [the owner] is for his state tax, not his property tax.

“Greg said that follows the property.”

Duncan said that the land bank can only forgive property taxes, not income taxes. Guarino suggested talking to other local land bank representatives to see if they have dealt with similar issues.

• Current reported that a closing was held Nov. 23 for 6830 Heather Moor Trail, which was split into two parcels as “both the neighbors paid for those.”

• Current said that the owners of 11540 Dundee Drive have not returned paperwork for a quit claim deed.

• Paperwork for two properties in Greenfield — one on McClain Avenue and one on Carford Pike — owned by Fannie Mae are “practically done,” Current said. Deeds have been drawn up for both properties, then the land bank can put them out for bid.

“We don’t officially own them yet, but in a matter days, we’ll have the documentation for those,” Current said. “The land value, according to the auditor’s website, is $4,300 each.”

Guarino asked how a situation involving alleged squatters in the McClain Avenue property “is going to get resolved.”

“The people living there have the utilities in their name,” Current said. “They’re paying their bills, so the village of Greenfield doesn’t want to — I mean, they’re paying for electric. They’re not paying taxes. They were told by the former owner they could live there as long as they want to, so in their mind, they’re not squatters.”

Bridges said she could see if the property was certified delinquent.

“It would cause us to have to evict them, which I’m fine with, but I think our policies say that we’ll take a vacant property,” Current said. “Or we could change our policy and procedure.”

• Properties on Heathermoor Trail and Cathy’s Court both have mortgages on them, and Current said he “would have to contact these institutions” with the mortgages “to see if they will release those two properties.”

“Once again, the properties are kind of stuck,” he said. “It’s no advantage to them to hang onto them and leave them as they are, so I’m hoping they will release those mortgages, and then we could take them and clean them up and put them in someone else’s hands.”

• A property on Golden Doubloon Lane is a “fairly easy process” to acquire, according to VanZant, if they can get in touch with the property owner. “That one sounds promising,” Current said.

• Duncan asked if Current had looked into any other new properties. Current said that he recently looked at one property that was “basically a gully and didn’t seem sellable at all.”

“I wasn’t going to recommend getting it,” he said.

Bridges said she’s also given Current a list of properties to check into.

• Fiscal officer Beth Allering reported a bank account balance of $201,435.42 as of Dec. 31, 2020. At her request, the board voted 5-0 to authorize a request for signature/approval for payment to Highland County Community Action Organization for administration costs for July through December ($3,900) and fiscal management for June through December ($2,340), for a total of $6,240.

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