Would a Community Land Trust work in CP?

An editorial in today’s Diamondback puts forth the idea that a Community Land Trust (CLT) is just the ticket for snapping up vacant properties along Route 1. Then it would be the trustees (that would be us) that can make decisions on the development of the property. These CLT’s have been used successfully in many different areas including college towns. There is even one just south on Route 1 called the Gateway Community Development Corporation

So how exactly does s CLT work? The Urban Strategies Council based in Oakland CA  gives a nice thumbnail sketch.

1) Bank forecloses on property and takes ownership
2) Vacant, foreclosed property creates blight and public safety risk
3) Resident led community land trust(CLT) negotiates with bank to purchase property
4) CLT purchases property to maintain permanent affordability
5) CLT retains ownership of land
6) Lower-to-moderate income homebuyer purchases improvements (house) from the CLT
7) CLT leases land back to homeowner

Talk about rethinking College Park. Personally I’ve never heard of such a thing. However the idea sounds promising. A CLT can have a more long range community-based objective instead of just the bottom line. Maybe a CLT could have kept Paperworks and several other local businesses around.

The full Editorial is show below the break..

Staff Editorial: Fixing a hole Posted: 4/22/09

Pedestrian-friendly, business-friendly and environmentally friendly. Aesthetically pleasing, with the perfect mix of retail and housing. That’s how consultants, planners and developers have envisioned a revitalized Route 1 sector. But their plans have remained largely unfunded, their vision unrealized. And the city’s problems aren’t limited to what we’re not getting – consider what we’re losing. Last July, Starbucks announced it would be shutting down its location near Ikea. In November, the Washington Post Co. closed its College Park printing plant – the city’s largest taxpayer. This Monday, it became public that South Street Steaks will cease business at its College Park location, and in two days Vertigo Books will close its doors for the final time. All of these businesses will leave vacant properties in their wake, joining a string of other vacant properties along Route 1. Like they say, College Park cannot be turned into Rome overnight – but there might be a way to check its decline.

For decades, citizens, businesses and local governments have pooled their resources and formed community land trusts. The trusts purchase vacant properties, allowing stakeholders to take control of their community’s fate. In the short term, this prevents unattended lots from falling into disrepair and attracting crime – the trust acts as the property’s custodian. In the long term, this investment in the community’s future pays even greater dividends. The members of the trust guide development, pursuing a vision rather than simply selling property off to the highest bidder.

CLTs have been enormously successful, with a range of missions. Connecticut’s Weantinoge Heritage, committed to environmental protection, has secured more than 8,000 acres of farms, wetlands and forests. Following the housing market bust, cities across the country have also begun buying up property on a massive scale to protect their communities from blight. The New York Times reported that a land bank in Genesse County, Mich., has acquired 7,400 properties since its creation in 2002, 2,500 of which have been turned into parks, yards and refurbished homes. The same model works in college towns. The State College Community Land Trust, for example, ensures affordable housing around Penn State. The parallels for College Park are obvious. We know the kind of businesses we want. But even when we’re lucky enough to attract new stores, you can bet they sell sandwiches.

We’ve heard plenty of lamenting about the city. “You somehow get, in College Park, an ugly shopping strip, a scarcity of choice, an air of lurking danger, and the promise of thoughtless mayhem,” reflected a 2006 article in the Washington City Paper. “It has the locational charm of a highway rest stop.” If anything, the two intervening years have seen the city’s charm decline along with the economy. But rather than continue grumbling, it’s time to take some initiative. A community land trust is in no way a quick fix; there are a lot of questions that would need to be addressed before one could be established for College Park. A committed group of stakeholders would need to be gathered and funding secured. Even then, there would remain legal questions, and with groups of storefronts owned by single landlords, even vacant properties might not be readily available for purchase. Nonetheless, it’s a good place to start. It may be a difficult time to start a fundraising campaign, but property prices are unusually low. Let’s get started.