By Mary Ellen Podmolik
More than 700 properties that have languished unused, some for almost two decades, may be grabbed by the Cook County Land Bank Authority to make them more attractive to developers.
The parcels — which are scattered around the county and include land zoned for residential, commercial and industrial use as well as vacant homes — are among 23,000 properties that have been offered for sale through the county’s scavenger tax sale, with no takers for at least two years.
The land bank believes the parcels would be desirable, were it not for delinquent property taxes that can total as much as $500,000.
“These are properties that have been sitting on this list for 17, 18, 19, 20 years and nothing has happened,” said Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer, chairman of the land bank.
Of the 712 parcels, more than 500 are vacant residential lots. Some of the land is near CSX rail lines and may be of interest to the railroad. Others could be used to expand green space, said Emy Brawley, director of land preservation for Openlands and a member of the land bank’s board. “Some of the parcels on the list are adjacent to existing community gardens or existing parks so that seems like a natural match,” Brawley said. “There’s a lot of data out there that supports the conclusion that having someone claim ownership of vacant land can have a stabilizing effect. We’re not going to be able to put new retail establishments on every parcel.”
Openlands also is interested in some of the land for an urban nursery that would grow trees to be planted around the city and provide jobs training, she said, adding that most of the tree stock now comes from suburban nurseries. The properties would not actually pass through the land bank and have their titles cleared, until a suitable developer stepped forward to buy them, Gainer said.
To date, the land bank, created by the Cook County Board in early 2013, has acquired or earmarked for acquisition more than 60 homes or lots zoned for residential use. The first abandoned homes that have been sold to developers are scheduled to be rehabbed and put on the market for sale in spring.
As of mid-December, the land bank had more than $2 million in funding on hand.