- Associated Press - Friday, May 8, 2015

GREENSBURG, Kan. (AP) - The people of Greensburg knew they would rebuild their town.

They knew it would be better and greener. What they didn’t know in the days and weeks after the EF-5 tornado hit on May 4, 2007, was the number of people who would move away, leaving behind empty lots where they once lived, The Hutchinson News (https://bit.ly/1R5sN0z ) reported.

In the past year, the Greensburg Land Bank was established as a way to return tax-delinquent property to productive use that benefits the community.

“I thought it was an excellent idea because of the sheer number of distressed properties,” said Ed Truelove, who stepped down recently as Greensburg city administrator to become the Neodesha city administrator.

Some of the properties were in the abatement process of needing to be cleaned up, others were owned by people out of state who couldn’t keep them mowed. Others had been abandoned and were subject to sheriff sales, which typically happen every few years.

When considering proposals, according to the ordinance, preference will be given to projects that support home ownership, improve neighborhoods and otherwise advance the economic and social interests of the city of Greensburg and its residents.

In the first days after the disaster, many pushed the debris that was once their home to the curb and the National Guard came along and cleared it away. Others hired independent contractors to haul off the rubble.

Then the rebuilding began. But not everyone chose to rebuild in Greensburg. Eight years later, many properties are overgrown and abandoned. Now people can donate their property in lieu of paying taxes, explained Mayor Bob Dixon.

“We can accept these properties into the city and they would be available to use as incentives. A lot of cities do land banks,” Dixon said.

While Christy Pyatt, city clerk, is uncertain of the number of empty lots in the town, she knows there are currently 11 properties in the Greensburg Land Bank and three more in the process.

The goal is to return tax delinquent property to productive use, according to Truelove, who helped establish the bank. However, he attributes the idea to Jay Newton, who was acting city administrator before Truelove came to Greensburg.

“Jay had briefed us on how to set it up and I established it,” Truelove said. “And now Jay is back as interim administrator.”

Truelove said it helps those who might be struggling to keep current with the property. They can put it through the land bank process so it could be used for another purpose.

Once it is in the land bank it can be used for residential or commercial property, depending on the location. The Land bank trustees, who are also the city council members, can set the minimum price on a land bank property.

The whole goal is to take distressed properties and put them back into the hands of an owner who could pay for it. There is the possibility to use the land for gardens.

“We are seeing more and more people who have vacant lots tilling them up and growing vegetable gardens,” said Dixon.

Pam Muntz, Kiowa County home economist, said there are three vacant lots in her neighborhood that are being put into gardens this spring.

Right after the tornado, the city provided a lot, paid for water, and provided the tools so people in the community could grow a garden.

“We had a master gardener work it up and people could grow things in the garden,” Muntz said. Then people moved back in and did their gardening in their yards.

“We would like to see it going again and set up a farmer’s market,” Muntz said. “But we are just in the talking stage.”

Meanwhile, on the eight-year anniversary, Dixon says there is a sense of normalcy. The boom that took place in the first years following the tornado is over, but there is still continued interest and continued growth, he said.

“We’re continuing to grow,” Dixon said. “It’s about building our community for future generations. A family added here and there and a job added keeps our rural community going for a lifetime.”

Dixon said they are like all rural areas, “doing the best we can to make communities a better place to live and work for all citizens.”


Information from: The Hutchinson (Kan.) News, https://www.hutchnews.com

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