Raynis Kelly and her sister have been running Soil Sisters, a nursery business in Pittsburgh’s Belzhoover neighborhood, for three years. Their focus is on growing garden vegetables and providing food for the community. In addition to running their business, they have also hosted garden supplies giveaways and summer camps. Now, with the help of four vacant lots near their business, they hope to expand their efforts and bring more community gardening opportunities to the area. Kelly envisions using the land to promote urban horticulture in the neighborhood. Plans for the site include a farmers market and plots where neighbors can grow their own food. She views this project as a community vision.
To make this vision a reality, the city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) has transferred the vacant land to the Land Bank of Pittsburgh. This transfer was made possible due to recent amendments approved by the city council, allowing for two-way transfers between the city, URA, and land bank. Previously, land banks could only transfer properties to cities and URAs. This change makes it easier for cities to take over vacant public assets and transfer them to individuals or companies who can effectively reuse them.
The URA board recently approved the first transfer of 17 parcels to the land bank. These parcels are located in various urban neighborhoods and officials hope to convert them into affordable housing or urban farms. One of the parcels in Larimer will go to a local company, which plans to renovate a garage on the property. The Hazelwood parcel has been set aside for affordable housing projects. The City of Bridges Community Land Trust intends to construct a four-story building containing four ADA-accessible affordable housing units on this parcel.
The land bank process will now determine the future of these properties and transfer them to the appropriate entities identified by the URA. The goal is to promote transparency in how vacant properties are being used and ensure that they are put to a higher and better use. This process will also allow for more efficient and timely disposal of real estate, as the URA or city can specify the end use when transferring the land to the land bank.
Councilwoman Barb Warwick expressed her support for this process, highlighting its transparency and accountability. She believes it is crucial for residents and local officials to know how vacant properties are being utilized. Bob Charland, the chief of staff to City Councilman Bruce Krause, shared Warwick’s sentiments and hopes that this will lead to a positive transformation of the community. Lindsey Powell, a member of the URA board of directors, commended efforts like Soil Sisters for their support of small businesses. She believes that the ability to transfer land to a land bank will facilitate productive reuse of vacant land and bring about meaningful change in the neighborhoods.
Overall, the transfer of these vacant lots to the land bank represents an opportunity to revitalize long-abandoned land and bring it back into productive use. This initiative aligns with the vision of community members like Raynis Kelly, who aim to promote urban horticulture and provide more gardening opportunities for the local community.