Video: Demolition, Liens, and Land Grabs at Salisbury City Council Meeting on February 21st

Posted on February 27, 2017

RFP Staff

♦ Brian Miller, David Post, and City Manager Lane Bailey appear to be seeking creative ways for the City of Salisbury to take ownership of land left undeveloped after upcoming building demolitions.

On February 21st, Salisbury City Council viewed a presentation on houses recommended to be demolished under the Zoning Nuisance and Minimum Housing Code. How can demolishing dilapidated buildings and clearing neighborhoods go wrong? Neighborhoods can become safer, tax values can be positively affected, and things look better.

But trouble can reside in who ends up with the land.

Here’s how the process works: The City contacts landowners, most who have unpaid property taxes, to give them the opportunity to restore or demolish the property. If landowners do not do so, the city can demolish and put a lien on the property for the cost of demolition and toxic abatement. Many property owners will have both unpaid property taxes and the lien from demolition.

David Post noted that the “dirt” the building stood on may be worth $10,000.

Miller and Post mulled over how to acquire ownership of land after demolition. Miller suggested they may have to be “creative” to acquire the land. Miller suggested they take the conversation “offline”, or off camera. Miller and Post seemed interested in using unpaid property taxes as incentive for people to sign over titles to the City. City Manager Lane Bailey told Council it is not legal to take land away from property owners because of unpaid property taxes, but that owners might be willing to sell the land for a dollar.

Do Miller and Post have buyers in mind for this land? Who would want to buy up land cheap from a city in severe decline, and why? Perhaps we can learn a cautionary tale from Detroit.

Detroit traveled down this road already. It turns out that the wealthy grabbed up much of the land where demolitions took place. One man, Tom Hantz, bought thousands of lots for 8 cents per square foot from the City of Detroit. The stories of Detroit’s land grabs by Hantz and corporate names such as Heinz are told in the documentary “Land Grab” (A brief trailer):

Detroit’s decayed and flattened neighborhoods have not recovered.


Detroit has demolished over 10,000 buildings to solve its problems with blight and now maintains a demolition tracking map at . Detroit’s experiences can provide some insight into how a broke city owning land can leave the area prone to speculators and land grabs.

Will City Council set a policy not to put large swaths of land in the hands of a few wealthy cronies? Surely City Council would not hold cheap land for those waiting just out of sight for profitable land grabs?

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