York County Libertarian Party

York's Royal Square: Government Land Bank Combines with Secret Money to Create New Neighborhood


Redevelopment Authority Uses Anonymous Funds to Partner with Private Developer

It’s definitely election season. With municipal offices up for grabs, local bureaucrats are once again practicing the art of ‘being seen’ while touting various city projects as successes. It’s the political iteration of smoke and mirrors; the use of unproven, newly-minted initiatives to obfuscate and deflect criticism from years of failed, negligent policies.

One of those projects is the Redevelopment Authority’s recently announced Royal Square neighborhood in the city of York. Perfectly timed for optimum political impact, the project does beg several questions.

Secret Money and Government is Never a Good Mix

This point should stand on its own, as obvious. A candidate for local office, for example, can’t spend a dime without accounting for the source of his/her campaign funding. The more a candidate spends, the higher the penalties for any evasion of reporting requirements or secrecy. Such reporting requirements and restrictions are in place to allow for public discovery of influence and electioneering; presumably to prevent manipulation and corruption of the public trust.

It strikes me as odd, then, that the Redevelopment Authority can use the full coercive force and weight of government to acquire properties using secret money.

I’ve written about the Redevelopment Authority’s unseen impacts on housing and the real estate market in the past. The RDA’s practice of implementing onerous deed restrictions and reverter clauses is already enough cause for concern whenever it seizes or acquires a property. Still, there’s even more problems with this latest project.

Public Bids and Transactions

How does the RDA select its private business partners? The RDA is a public entity funded with public money. Kevin Schreiber, candidate for York’s 95th District House Seat and city of York economic and community development director was quoted on the Royal Square project:

Eventually, the RDA would want to sell the former bar, the Bond
building and other properties it’s bought in the area to a private owner, Schreiber said.

And all the while the RDA has been scarfing up properties, so has [Josh] Hankey — who may or may not be the future owner of some of the RDA’s current holdings, Schreiber said. Big plans for the Royal section of York City

Who do you think will end up owning the RDA properties? Who do you think is behind the secret money the RDA is using to scoop up the properties in the first place? Who do you think has an economic interest? Follow the money.

The fact is, how and with whom the RDA conducts real estate transactions is entirely arbitrary and secret. Nobody knows how the RDA selects the developers it works with. There’s no bidding process. Even worse, the hundreds of properties held by the RDA are kept off the local real estate listings. The local government is sitting on hundreds of unlisted properties with the intent of forming strategic partnerships with pet developers and federal/state funding agencies. That’s not only unfair, but promotes abandonment and restricts tax receipts, as these properties are indefinitely kept off the tax rolls.

The RDA refuses to release a disposition strategy for the properties held in its land bank. Kevin Schreiber has publicly admitted that RDA held properties are only sold to ‘suitable buyers’ who agree to accept deed restrictions which mandate that properties are only to be purchased for ‘socially desirable’ uses. See the video below.

This One’s Personal

Now for full disclosure. Aside from the fact that for years I’ve been advocating against government deed restrictions and reverter clauses which dictate land usage in perpetuity (what the RDA does); I live in what’s now being called ‘Royal Square’.

I see first hand how the (pseudo) free market is being undercut as properties are being purchased and surreptitiously warehoused in government land banks using public agencies and anonymous funding. I can feel the pressure of the inevitable wave of inorganic displacement and neighborhood dissolution that’s quite literally at my front door.

What’s worse? It’s the culmination of all the things I set out on the path of public advocacy to diminish. Tax abatements, corporate welfare, government subsidies and rent seeking; and yes, even closed door land swaps and financial deals.

It Comes Down to Basics

I’m pro free enterprise and competition. I don’t support arbitrary public-private partnerships or public-private partnerships in general. As is often the case, these projects end up privatizing the gains/profits and socializing the risks/losses. That fundamental premise is compounded by the secrecy and lack of transparency in the RDA’s dealings.

Josh Hankey has done a venerable job in stabilizing and uplifting a depressed area of the city. It’s a shame the neighborhood’s legitimate gains and charm will prove to be fleeting once the effects of the government’s stale top-down imposition and scheming take hold in the area.

I can only hope I’m wrong.


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