Suffolk gets state OK to create land bank

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Suffolk County has gotten state approval to create a land bank that could spur the cleanup of 133 contaminated properties and their return to the tax rolls.

The county learned Thursday that the Empire State Development Corp. had granted its application to form the nonprofit, after failing to win approval last year. This year, the county bolstered its chances by getting resolutions of support from most towns.

Supporters say land bank status improves the chances of selling brownfield parcels, including old auto repair shops and gas stations. A land bank can seek grants for cleanup and can foreclose on tax-delinquent properties.

Past efforts by the county to sell tax liens on the properties often have failed because of the cost of removing contaminants.

"This is something that makes total sense," said County Executive Steve Bellone, noting that he has long been frustrated by the problem of brownfield properties, dating back to his days as Babylon supervisor. "They're blights to the communities, not contributing to the tax base, and some have environmental issues."

Legis. DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville), who sponsored the land bank plan with Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore), said it will be the "most effective tool the county's ever had to make tainted properties habitable, and make impoverished communities economically viable."

Cilmi added: "I'm thrilled that an issue that has been so vexing for so long is finally being addressed."

Officials anticipate moving the first sites into the land bank this summer.

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