Wednesday, Oct 18, 2017
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A better plan to fight blight

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Toledo Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson and Economic Development Commissioner Bill Burkett discuss the city's new interactive map showing all city-owned vacant lots for sale.

THE BLADE/IGNAZIO MESSINA
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Making it easier for Toledo residents to buy and begin caring for some of the thousands of vacant lots in the city is a good strategy for combating blight. A new digital system for selling off such parcels sounds like a hopeful development in that struggle.

After some well-meaning city residents were rebuffed in their attempts to buy small vacant parcels they were already maintaining, Toledo city officials came up with a better system.

The city has launched an interactive map designed to let prospective lot buyers look over the roughly 800 city-owned parcels for sale and apply online to buy them.

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The map should streamline the process for shopping for and applying to buy the parcels that otherwise may go neglected or attract graffiti, trash, and other ugliness. The city owns more than 2,000 such lots, so it is time to begin selling these at a better pace to neighbors who will take care of them.

The interactive map is a good innovation, but now the city’s staffers must follow through with efficient and professional handling of all the applications from interested buyers.

City officials have said they will give preference to buyers who live near the lots they are seeking to purchase. This makes sense and is a good revision to the former — apparently hard and fast — rule that buyers must own the adjacent parcel.

Also, the city requires prospective buyers to be current on their property tax payments, which is reasonable. The idea is to sell off the parcels to responsible owners who will keep them tidy and pay their taxes.

When judgment calls are necessary — and they will inevitably be necessary — it will be important that city workers responsible for managing the vacant-parcel sales use common sense in deciding whether an applicant will be a good, responsible owner for the $150 plots. Making the best use of available technology is smart, but it cannot replace the service of conscientious and capable public servants.

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