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Land bank committee temporarily suspends meetings
Subcommittee looking into land distribution policy halts due to lawsuit.
The Kent County Land Bank Process Subcommittee decided late last week to suspend its meetings until a pending court case is resolved.
“Once we get more information from the court, we can move on,” said Commissioner Tom Antor, who suggested the subcommittee temporarily delay further meetings. “I just don’t see any benefit of going forward until we hear from the court.”
About a month ago, the Kent County Taxpayers Alliance announced it would file a lawsuit against Kent County, the Kent County Land Bank Authority and Kent County Treasurer Kenneth Parrish.
The suit alleges that the defendants violated state law and the county’s policy on land distribution when county commissioners agreed to sell 44 tax-foreclosed properties to the land bank prior to the auction of foreclosed properties held by the Treasurer’s office each year.
The plaintiffs are real estate agent Rusty Richter, Keystone Realty Group, 383OG LLC, Jeff Fortuna, James Kane and the Affordable Housing Coalition. They argue that the private sector was deprived of being able to bid on the properties the county sold to the land bank.
“The state law that created land bank authorities is quite clear: The land bank may only acquire property either at an auction or after the auction process has completed. The county government decided to short-circuit this process,” said Jeff Steinport, a KCTA project manager, in a statement.
Kent County Corporate Counsel Dan Ophoff said he was served papers just prior to the subcommittee’s meeting. He had planned to prepare an opinion on what the county did prior to the auction and discuss the county’s policy on transferring property at the meeting.
“I have decided not to do an opinion because these are the issues in the lawsuit,” he said.
Ophoff also said the county is hoping to resolve the suit as quickly as possible. “I don’t think a request for an injunction is going to have any traction. I think the lawsuit is geared to the future,” he said.
The case has been assigned to 17th Circuit Court Judge George Buth. A court date hasn’t been set; the county plans to respond to the suit.
Kent County Chairwoman Sandi Frost Parrish created the panel to review and assess the county’s policy regarding the sale of tax-foreclosed properties to the land bank before the public auction is held.
Parrish appointed commissioners Antor, Dick Vander Molen, Candace Chivis and Michael Wawee to the subcommittee. Wawee chairs the panel, which hopes to file a final report of its findings in May. But the lawsuit’s timing may push that date back. By a 3-1 vote, members decided to suspend the meetings.
KCLBA Chairman Kenneth Parrish said the land bank will continue to meet.