Committee was proposed to rouse plans for vacant, unused county-owned properties.

Last updated: June 13. 2013 12:18AM - 3109 Views
By - jandes@civitasmedia.com - (570) 991-6388

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Luzerne County Council did not create a new real estate committee Tuesday because several council members want more details on its structure and purpose.

Council Chairman Tim McGinley proposed the committee to jump-start plans for vacant, unused county-owned properties, saying he fears the topic will remain on the back burner.

A council majority voted to review the proposal at the next council meeting June 25.

The county owns four vacant buildings — the former Valley Crest Nursing Home in Plains Township, the former Springbrook Water Co. and the juvenile detention center in Wilkes-Barre and a building in downtown Hazleton purchased for a southern annex that never materialized.

The county also inherited hundreds of vacant land slivers during the past 200 years, and the county is semi-liable for more than 700 repository properties that didn’t sell in past back-tax auctions, officials say.

Councilman Rick Morelli said council should regularly discuss plans for real estate but questioned the need for a special committee. He said the administration has more expertise and should present recommendations to council, which could then vote on policies and the disposal of unneeded properties.

County Manager Robert Lawton said the home rule charter prohibits council from directing the administration to locate offices in specific places, but he welcomes a council committee’s direction on which properties should be sold or kept in reserve for potential future use.

Several council members said the proposed committee also could focus on the possible creation of a land bank authority permitted by new state legislation.

These authorities take over blighted properties and try to make them more attractive to investors. Dauphin County recently created the first land bank authority in the state.

County council candidate Michael Giamber has been pressing county officials to consider a land bank for months.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for this county,” Giamber told council Tuesday.

Lawton said the administration will prepare a report on land banks for council.

Councilman Stephen A. Urban said he believes council should be up to speed and take action. He proposed putting Valley Crest back on the market and voting on whether to reuse the former detention center or knock it down.

The county has unsuccessfully tried to sell the 62.35-acre Valley Crest property twice since the private nursing-home operator moved into a new facility in 2010. The site has been proposed as a central location for county offices, but renovations would cost millions of dollars.

Councilman Edward Brominski, a former commissioner, expressed doubt a committee will successfully unload its properties, saying it’s been a goal since since the early 1990s.

“The discussion is fruitless,” he said.

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