A new Oak Ridge land bank could be started with $100,000, one donated lot, and eleven parcels where homes have been demolished or are being demolished.
Oak Ridge officials said the land bank program is a tool that can help the city return vacant, abandoned, and tax-delinquent properties to productive use, one of several initiatives to improve local housing.
The Oak Ridge City Council agreed in a 6-1 vote on Monday to set up the Oak Ridge Land Bank Corp., appropriate the funds and staff support required to create and start running the program, and transfer the available city-acquired properties. Council still has to approve the program on second and final reading in September.
The land bank program was part of a “Not in Our City” plan adopted several years ago, and Tennessee officials have already approved a pilot program in Oak Ridge.
Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson said the program would not be used for eminent domain.
City Council member Trina Baughn voted against the establishment of the program. Among other things, she said she wanted more information on the scope and cost of the land bank, and she didn’t want to add another layer of government.
“I fail to see what a land bank can accomplish that we don’t already have,” Baughn said.
The properties that could be transferred to the Oak Ridge Land Bank Corp. are at 214 Waltham Place, 121 Goucher Circle, 112-114 Wade Lane, 608 W. Outer Drive, 175 Outer Drive, 110-112 Walnut Lane, 114-116 Lawton Road, 212-214 N. Illinois Ave., 134 Houston Ave., 133 Johnson Road, 101 Decatur Road, and 116 Jarrett Lane.
Under the ordinance approved on first reading Monday, the Oak Ridge Land Bank Corp. would have a seven-member volunteer board of directors appointed by City Council. One of the seven board members would be a Council member. Board meetings would be open to the public.
Most of the initial $100,000 would come from money left in the city’s Housing Fund, Oak Ridge Community Development Director Kathryn Baldwin said.
City officials said it would be the first land bank in Tennessee.
“This designation was bestowed upon the City of Oak Ridge because of a myriad of social and economic factors that included the large number of legacy World War II-era housing structures originally constructed as temporary residential dwellings in support of the war that are now in deteriorated and unsafe or otherwise unfit condition,” Baldwin said.
The program has been in the works for several years in Oak Ridge and has been publicly promoted by resident Charlie Jernigan.