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Greensburg program aims to fill vacant lots with new homes

November 18, 2018

Greensburg has spent the past few years knocking down dilapidated houses. Now, the city is trying to get new ones built in their place.

“We tore down single-family homes, and we’re trying to put single-family homes back in,” said city Planning Director Barbara Ciampini.

The city and the Westmoreland County Land Bank are working on a joint “infill property development” project that would cut costs and red tape for people who build houses on the city’s vacant lots.

Step one is finding an architect.

The city has budgeted $25,000 for a consultant who can draw up architectural designs for three houses.

The money comes from fees paid by property owners who violate city codes. The city has collected $65,000 in fees so far this year.

The architect’s designs would be pre-approved by the various city boards responsible for signing off on site plans, Ciampini said.

With a design and permits ready to go, would-be builders who get approved for a construction loan would be able to get started right away.

Ciampini estimates the design work and permitting will save builders up to $10,000.

The project focuses on three vacant lots owned by the Westmoreland County Land Bank. Home builders could buy the lots from the land bank at a low cost, Ciampini said.

The city’s goal is to take on the “soft costs” of home construction, making building more tempting, said city council member Donnie Zappone Jr.

“It kind of alleviates a little of that,” he said.

The city hopes the homes will have a value between $90,000 and $100,000.

“It’s an opportunity for the city to stabilize its tax base, because every time we take a house and demolish it, the tax base is diminished,” Ciampini said.

The city tore down 18 blighted homes last year. Property owners paid for half of these projects, while the city funded the other half with grant money.

Demolition work continues. The city has torn down several homes this year, and six more are slated to go before the end of 2018, Ciampini said.

While the effort to remove blight will continue, the focus is shifting toward replacing it with something better, Ciampini said.

“If we can get three new homes built in the next year, that would be a big plus,” she said.

Replacing vacant, rotting buildings with new, taxable construction is one of the few options the city has to bolster its tax rolls, Ciampini said.

“The city of Greensburg is essentially a landlocked community; we don’t have a lot of areas for growth,” she said.

Architectural consultants have until Nov. 30 to apply to the city.

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