Benzie Landbank creating a healthy community

BEULAH — The Benzie Land Bank, is rapidly becoming an economic development catalyst, centered on converting abandoned, vacant, foreclosed and forgotten properties into assets that support the health and well-being of the County.

“As people learn about what we do, they discover that the Benzie County Land Bank has a vital role in making our County a better place to live, to do business and to protect and enhance property values,” said Michelle Thompson, Chair of the Land Bank and County Treasurer. “We do this by acquiring, managing and repurposing properties in our communities – the very worst abandoned houses, forgotten and sometimes dangerous buildings and empty lots. We need people to understand what we do and how we do it and the role we can play as a neighbor, particularly with distressed or blighted property that often suppresses property values as well as economic development.”

Thompson emphasizes that the Land Bank is eager to partner with local governments, contractors, excavators, recyclers and developers that can have big roles in identifying, reshaping and redeveloping properties. She encourages people to attend Land Bank Authority meetings on the third Wednesday of the month at 8:30 a.m. at the Benzie County Government Center located at 448 Court Place in Beulah. In addition to Thompson, members of the Land Bank Authority include Amy Bissell, Tom Longanbach, Terry Money and Mark Roper.

“We simply can’t do enough to encourage all interests to learn about the Land Bank and the roles it can have as a community partner to reclaim and improve properties, positioning them for new opportunities and development,” said County Commissioner Art Jeannot. “This is a tremendous asset for a relatively small County. That it is a selling feature to encourage redevelopment and job creation.”

The Benzie County Land Bank Authority can sell or convey property and develop programs for demolition, property maintenance, rental management, real estate development and rehabilitation. It has access to a number of sources to fund programs, such as foundations, government contracts, land sale revenues, developer fees and rental income.

While in its infancy, the Benzie Land Bank has had significant positive impact. It has been involved with 29 properties in 7 municipalities, sold 22 of those parcels for reuse and currently has 7 parcels in its inventory.

One of its most visible projects involved the deconstruction and clean-up of the “Question Mark Building” on Honor’s Main Street or US 31. Eleven parcels reclaimed through the Land Bank in Lake Ann are now being developed for mixed use housing.

“In one case, we cleaned up 5 acres on a 22 acre site that was a junk yard,” said Thompson. “We removed 320 yards of steel, 650 yards of construction materials and 290 yards of waste that was landfilled, with the value of the steel offsetting demolition costs. We removed 30,000 tires from this property with the support of a tire disposal grant from the Department of Natural Resources, and another 16,000 tires paid from the sale of the scrap steel”

“We’re working methodically to make Benzie County a better, more prosperous place,” says Thompson. “By working as a team with our communities we can transform properties that might be otherwise ignored or overlooked or simply have too many issues to tackle and get them back on our tax roles as desired assets in this great County.”

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Posted by Ken Grabowski

Ken is News Advocate’s education reporter. He coordinates coverage for all Manistee County schools and West Shore Community College. He can be reached by phone at (231) 398-3125 or by email at kgrabowski@pioneergroup.com.

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