A sign of the times? Tear down or build back up?

Head down N. Main, and just before you get to the closed Chicken Louie’s- you see this sign:

Sign on North Main Street Dayton

Sign on North Main Street Dayton

We have two choices:

  • Get more residents
  • Tear down homes.

Tearing down homes, or “land-banking” is the method of choice by Mayor McLin and Commissioner Whaley. I’d like to coin a phrase to describe their solution “Leadership by destruction.”

Less supply is supposed to mean more demand. However, who wants to live in a gap-toothed, dying neighborhood?

Tearing down is the easy way out.

Fixing what’s wrong is what leadership does. It’s what visionaries talk about. It’s how things change.

The city has been in the business of buying up real estate for too long. Every dollar they’ve spent on buying land, takes properties off the tax rolls, and gives us less money to work with. This practice has caught up with us and overtaken the city like a run-away freight train.

What we need is more residents. Those come, when you have a city that people want to live in. That means good schools, good neighborhoods and constructive positive leadership. When I bought my home in South Park (1986) you could have bought any home on the street for under $15K. We now have homes that have sold for $240K.

We’ve come to the proverbial fork in the road- do we want to keep tearing down, or do we want to reverse the course to entropy and start building up. I’ll be releasing my plan for neighborhood rejuvenation in the next week.

Hint: it doesn’t start with a wrecking ball.

Hope you’ll join me on my mission: “No neighborhood left behind.”

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29 Responses

  1. Larkin September 8, 2009 / 11:09 am
    There is one of these signs on Forest, too, right across the street from Grandview Hospital. I first saw it a couple of months ago. I can tell you that the visceral response I had to it was a great desire to bash in the teeth of the people who posted it. Not constructive on my part, I know, but honest. What the hell is the matter with these people? 

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  2. David Esrati September 8, 2009 / 11:20 am

    @Larkin- what’s the matter? They’ve lost faith. It’s a plea for leadership. Show them a plan. The current administration has none- nor any idea on how to start on the road to recovery.

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  3. thoughtful.april September 8, 2009 / 11:39 am
    I have to say that, I enjoy reading your “blog” (used tightly) … but I must say for someone who is running for city commission I don’t really see a lot of proposed solutions/answers to the many problems and faults you highlight on the page. What would you bring to the commission, if you were elected… and why should we vote for someone (excuse me) who seems to just complain about issue’s but has not set forth an outlined strategic plan for the re-building of our communities and city?

    …just wondering? …. but I do find it entertaining.

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  4. David Esrati September 8, 2009 / 12:00 pm

    @April- good question. There is a lot here- over 1000 posts.

    There are positions scattered throughout. Those who have been reading know what kind of questions I ask- and how I believe that public discussion is essential to moving ideas forward.

    I’ll be posting my plan in the next week.

    That’s more than the incumbents have done- and you are paying them.

    I guess open honest government isn’t a good enough start? The reality is- the commission is still having illegal work sessions where city business is being discussed. That alone should be enough of a reason to vote one of the commissioners out.

    Thanks for reading- and commenting.

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  5. Keith A. Burrows September 8, 2009 / 12:05 pm
    Yeah, Dayton leadership, that’s the answer! Look at what Dayton tore down in the 60’s to improve the neighborhoods. Let’s see, we lost whole neighborhoods downtown including Robert Drive which was one of the most beautiful boulevards in Dayton for I-75, we tore down other important homes such as the Barney Mansion, we replace wonderful old buildings like the original jailhouse and court house with Courthouse Square, we tore down the variety of 1870-1890’s architecture on Main Street, Second Street and many others to replace with some huge office buildings that aren’t even fully occupied. Uh-huh, let’s decimate Dayton further instead of trying to refurbish and preserve what few old buildings we have left. Bringing back is the answer NOT tearing down.

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  6. truddick September 8, 2009 / 12:51 pm
    I’ve heard the “rebuild, don’t demolish” mantra too often. If you want to preserve a derelict structure, fine–do it on your own dime. Decisions about zoning and public structures need to be made from a wider perspective.

    Note that I’m not advocating that every old structure be torn down. But calling every WWI era school or house “historical” demonstrates a sad ignorance of what constitutes history.

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  7. thoughtful.april September 8, 2009 / 2:17 pm
    …No I don’t think that’s enough to vote someone out. Anyone working in corporate America or corporate anything for that matter, knows that “thee” most important meetings are; the meeting before the meeting and the meeting after the meeting lol…. that’s when the real work happens so I’m not surprised or appalled that’s happening in Dayton politics…

    However what will persuade me to vote a member out is seeing your strategic plan, now that could do it :-) ,… I’ll be checking back (although i get your feeds so…)

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  8. David Esrati September 8, 2009 / 2:54 pm

    @April- it will be announced with a post- and published as a page- so you won’t miss it.

    Legally- the commission isn’t allowed to meet outside of what is specified by charter- unless an emergency exists. They’ve been bending the law for years- just so we don’t hear the discussion.

    Thanks for an open mind.

     

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  9. Larkin September 8, 2009 / 4:43 pm
    truddick, 
    Historical importance in architecture is not just a matter of age. There are some very important pieces of period architecture from the 20s. the 30s. the 40s, the 50s, the 60s and so on. I agree that every WWI building or house doesn’t have to be preserved, but if it can be, why shouldn’t it? We don’t save our cities by contributing to the homogenization of America. 
     
    David, I don’t care if they’re having a crisis of leadership. This kind of ‘Destroy what I don’t like’ mentality is rampant in American culture now. How is tearing down neighborhoods going to benefit anyone??  The guys who live on the corner pressured the city to tear down a house diagonally across the street from us. They told me they saw rats coming and going. They told the city they saw people squatting there. It was a pleasant house and a nice old tree set up on an embankment. 
     
    Now there’s just a badly engineered hole in the ground, and the truly historic house next door is sliding into it. The city didn’t tear the house down in a green fashion which would have resulted in salvaging architectural features like columns, windows, doors, sinks, clawfoot tubs, sinks, copper, glass, timbers and so forth. Instead it was all demolished into splinters and dumped into landfills. How does that help ANYTHING? It sure as hell didn’t improve the neighborhood. 

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  10. David Esrati September 8, 2009 / 4:48 pm

    Again- one only has to look at what “urban renewal” in the 60’s did to Dayton- to know that this isn’t a great idea now.

    We need to try to keep critical mass where we can- and cut loose what we won’t be able to save.

    But the decision has to come from the people- not left to the people who give $15,500 to Nan and Rhine.

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  11. Robert Vigh September 8, 2009 / 5:20 pm
    How many properties does the city own? When does the city decide to purchase a property or is it only when it is abandoned?

    For example: A friend of mine owns a house in a run down Dayton Neighborhood. She asked the courts if she could give the property to the city, because it was worth so little that it was not worth paying the taxes. Which is odd, because if we are going to have property taxes based on property value, why is this a problem? However, she informed me she tried to sell the house for 5k and it would not sell, however she was continuing to get taxed as if it were worth more. Hence, abandon the property.

    So, as opposed to a private owner with some operating capital holding onto a property, it is now abandoned because it was simply not worth paying the taxes. Does my story make sense? I mean how does this even happen to someone, because my friends tax obligation on this property should be like $50.00 / year.

    It simply seems odd to me to think that the city government can rebuild a neighborhood. I mean, what would they do? Tax some people to pour investment into an area to make it more attractive, thereby benefitting some, but hurting others? Give tax incentives to an area, thereby shifting the burden of the bill onto others, again benefitting some and hurting others? I guess I am looking for some enlightment in this category. Or is the goal of this to get people interested from other cities?

    Aside from my normal remove government diatribe I’ll give my rare work within the system / it could actually be possible op-ed.

    1) Find a better way to tie property tax to the market value of property, maybe even setting a floor. As in: If you cannot sell a property for at least 10k, then remove any tax obligation from it. Because property is really only worth a) what it can produce or b) what someone will pay for it.

    2) Have the city stop buying properties and auction the ones they have. This stops the false signal of demand and could help the price sink to a level of market interest.

    It may take some time, but let things run their course.

    PS: One minor correction, less supply does not mean more demand. It means less supply, which in turn increases competition on the remaining supply. However, if the supply is so far exceeding the demand it can have no effect. You could just as easily say less supply means higher prices. Just a nuance.

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  12. Robert Vigh September 8, 2009 / 6:09 pm
    Larkin,

    I dont agree with the sign either. It implies that some leadership should tear down properties, whereas it should really be up to whoever owns the property.

    But your post is a great one to reflect the idea above.

    In your example, who owned the property? I assume it was the city. Did they acquire it through abandonment? What if, it was abandoned and the city auctioned the property off, starting at $100.00. Your neighborhood could then bid on the house. Your neighbors who want it torn down would have to think about the cost of tearing it down + the cost of acquiring it. You would only have to be concerned with cost to acquire it. Makes sense that you would get a property very cheap and preserve what you like without asking for other people to like exactly what you like. Also, if the floor was set on property taxes, you would be able to acquire this property without continued increased expense to you.

    Or, if your neighbors really wanted the thing torn down, they would pay for it. No one else would share the financial burden of improving their neighborhood. Furthermore, it may occur to them, since they had their own finances at stake, that it may very well be worth it to sell all the copper for recycle and the columns to you to help them cover costs.

    Just a thought.

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  13. Gene September 8, 2009 / 6:09 pm
    Supply this, supply that. Having a billion buggy whips or 5 does not change the price. There is no real demand for homes in Dayton, regardless of supply.

    I suggest that the Esratis and the Larkins of the world buy these properties. It seems you are the one wanting them to be saved. Why burden the apathetic tax payer? Oh, that is right, your liberals and love to tax and spend like Chris Farley used to love to eat and drink and snort coke. Your liberal ways may produce the same results – death.

    If they are abandoned too long set them on fire and be done with it. Let the Firefighters have a little extra training. I will provide the match.

    But all kidding aside, what they need to do is find blocks and blocks of these crap homes that are not historic and bull doze them and put up fresh, green homes and create new neighborhoods. Not everything has to be homogeneous, rather think of it as a way for a fresh, green approach to new homes and new neighborhoods in Dayton and the Miami Valley. Doing it would not be hard, so long as you can push away the CB liberals :).

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  14. David Esrati September 8, 2009 / 8:43 pm

    I’m in agreement with both Robert and Gene.

    1) The city shouldn’t own real estate other than for the welfare of all. i.e. parks, fire stations, etc. We owned way too many pieces of real estate 20 years ago- and the number keeps rising. Your minimum value is right on.

    2) We should look to relocation assistance to move people from no-longer viable neighborhoods to viable ones- thus cutting the need for delivery and maintenance of services. However, this must be done with input from the neighborhoods- if they have a vision for bringing their neighbors back, and are willing to work at it- we’ll support it.

    Yes- the ideal answer is to show the values to people in incredibly over-priced communities- and have them move their investment. Bring in the New Yorkers, the Californians- wholesale- and the H1B visa holders- and let them turn the neighborhoods around.

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  15. Jeff September 8, 2009 / 9:39 pm
    There are two good suggestions, particularly the first one.:
     
     
    1) Find a better way to tie property tax to the market value of property, maybe even setting a floor. As in: If you cannot sell a property for at least 10k, then remove any tax obligation from it. Because property is really only worth a) what it can produce or b) what someone will pay for it.
    2) Have the city stop buying properties and auction the ones they have. This stops the false signal of demand and could help the price sink to a level of market interest.

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  16. Jeff September 8, 2009 / 9:41 pm
    Yeah, Dayton leadership, that’s the answer! Look at what Dayton tore down in the 60’s to improve the neighborhoods. Let’s see, we lost whole neighborhoods downtown including Robert Drive which was one of the most beautiful boulevards in Dayton for I-75, we tore down other important homes such as the Barney Mansion, we replace wonderful old buildings like the original jailhouse and court house with Courthouse Square, we tore down the variety of 1870-1890’s architecture on Main Street, Second Street and many others to replace with some huge office buildings that aren’t even fully occupied. Uh-huh, let’s decimate Dayton further instead of trying to refurbish and preserve what few old buildings we have left. Bringing back is the answer NOT tearing down.

     
     
    Keith, I love you man.  ((((((Keith))))))

    t.

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  17. Jeff September 8, 2009 / 10:08 pm
    Heres’ some discussion from my blog on this, referencing some writing from West Coast preservationists, containing a Historic Preservation Manifseto:
     
     
    http://daytonology.blogspot.com/2008/08/historic-preservation-manifesto.html
     
     
    There is more than the manifesto, some more comments from the author:
     
     
    “… the mainstream preservation movement has concerned itself mainly with ‘trophy buildings’ – city halls, courthouses, mansions, historic theaters, hotels, residences designed by famous architects. All of these are eminently worth preserving. But while those buildings were being fought for, thousands of more modest buildings were lost to the wrecking ball. They continue to be lost. Few people have stepped up to defend the bungalows, working-class Victorians, historic gas stations, small commercial buildings, old warehouses and other modest buildings that have been targeted, and a huge number of them have been demolished. Those buildings represent a large part of our history – the history of ordinary people who built them, worked in them, lived in them.
     
    On the West Coast old property is more precious since there is so little of it.  It’s valued more. So you have neighborhoods like this one, which looks pretty generic and throwaway by Dayton standards, becoming valued historic districts:
     
    http://www.oldnampa.net/
     
    To some degree Californias historic long-term boom and population growth supported this approach  to preservation, to the valuing of generic, yet older and thus rarer, types of building.  The situation is reversed in Dayton.
     

     
     
     
     
     
     

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  18. David Esrati September 8, 2009 / 10:23 pm

    hey c’mon Jeffrey- soon we’ll be giving Huber historic preservation status :-)

     

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  19. Civil Servants Are People, Too September 9, 2009 / 12:08 am
    Keep in mind that cities have little to do with property taxes.   The value is set by the county in accordance with state law.   If someone wants to change that, they need to reach higher than city council.
     
    As I understand it, the city is only buying foreclosed vacant lots – not houses – unless there is a special project going on.    Unless one of the new stimulus programs have changed that – but even so it is probably not much in the big scheme of things.
     
    Here’s the problem – the city has been waiting and trying for 30 years to save these houses and bring people back.  It hasn’t worked.   The jobs left, often due to reasons beyond anyone’s control in government.     It makes it hard to point fingers when neither side can make a dent.
     
    Personally, I’d rather have a smaller neighborhood with nice big yards, than a dense block of empty, abandoned, decaying homes next to me.    If you can get those 100,000 people to come back in the next six months or so, that would be great.   Otherwise, strategic demolition makes sense.   Save what works, clear the rest for redevelopment.
     
     

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  20. Larkin September 9, 2009 / 2:23 pm
    I’ve been thinking about what I wrote earlier about demolition, and I wonder if there isn’t money to made with “green” demolition. I was through Whitmire, SC this winter where they are demolishing an old cotton mill. It was a neat old building, but Whitmire is a little town and I guess they didn’t have an adaptive use for it. 
     
    So all the bricks are cleaned and stacked, all the timbers sorted by type of wood and size and stacked– reusable fixtures were set aside for recycling, as was metal that could be sold for scrap. 
     
    It was the county that tore down the house across the street, not the city. I apologize for the mix-up. But if the county employed a team of people (as opposed to contracting a man with a bulldozer at great cost) to de-construct a building. That would created jobs. They would be selling off the pieces as they went, which would entail a new use for a rehabbed warehouse space for storage and resale of the parts, and more jobs. And that which could not be resold could be recycled– income and more jobs.  And there would be less waste (some of it toxic — lead paint, lead pipes, etc.) filling up the landfills– also a cost saver. 
     
     
    Plus, and perhaps this is a minor point, but demolition is a violent and ugly process. Deconstuction on the other hand is quieter, less messy (requiring less in the way of cleanup) and much easier on the properties neighbors. Having a house demolished in your neighborhood is like having one burned there– it leaves you feeling unsettled for some time. 
     
     
     
     

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  21. Gene September 9, 2009 / 3:00 pm
    You can recycle copper and aluminum from homes, donate to Habitat various items (doors, windows), reuse wood and such – sure, this is the best way to get rid of these old homes.

    Build new and green – that is what we, Dayton Ohio, should be a leader in…….. create new neighborhoods with new names with new and old people. We need to think of it as progress, and approach it as such. Not every home is worth saving. Building puts people to work and stimulates local economies. Why is that so bad?

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  22. Ice Bandit September 9, 2009 / 5:05 pm
    You can recycle copper and aluminum from homes (Gene)
    Gene, you are technically correct. But about three years ago, when the Chinese lust for copper raised to scrap price to astronomical levels, every neer do well with a pair of wire cutters and a crack habit went to work stealing every old hot water pipe from every abandoned home and factory in Dayton. When the city went to licensing scrappers to try to dampen the runaway theft, they merely started selling their purloined copper  to dealers just outside the city limits. One chucklehead took an ax to an industrial electrical line in an abandoned factory off Edwin C only to discover the the line was still “hot.” The cops indicted him for theft from the burn unit. Receipts from scrap yards proved one bandito had received almost $100,000 for stolen copper in a 12 month period (the judge commented that thief had a better year than she did) yet he was broke and living in crack houses at his sentencing. And who could forget the dynamic duo who stole copper from the building off Washington and Germantown streets that contained, you guessed it, a district police station. What’s the point you may ask, Gene? My guess is, after the Copper Liberation Army’s successful Dayton campaign, there may not enough of the stuff left in abandoned homes to power one of those old crystal radios we used to make in Cub Scouts………

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  23. Robert Vigh September 9, 2009 / 6:02 pm
    I am all for green deconstruction. I am all for salvaging materials. I simply do not think it is the city governments job to do it. If it is a profitable or non-profitable model, let a citizen figure it out. Referencing my earlier post, auction off those homes that the city owns with no floor and see who buys them and what comes of it.

    Building green is a great idea! Again, what purpose does the city government have in that happening? What could they possibly offer other than tax incentives that take from one and give to another, hurting some and benefiting others? If a company can show a consumer their “green” home is of better value, then let them.

    Point being: Restructuring property taxes and auctioning off city “banked” property for whatever it will sell for is the best way to make any and all the above ideas come to light.

    Lets find a cheap property, buy it and deconstruct it. At the end, we would all know if it was worth it.

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  24. Gene September 9, 2009 / 8:17 pm
    You can say no government. I hate government in a lot of ways. But direction with a green theme has to have some government intervention.

    Why green? Why not. It may be true, maybe not, that this world is melting away. I say we play it on the safe side. But attack the green theme by selling it as saving The Green, that being cash. More energy efficient homes means less paid to utility companies. I am all for investing in something that saves me money. I have made huge updates with just windows and light bulbs, and a few other things. But if it could be brand new, using recycled materials and building a “tight” home then new owners could save more.

    City buys block of crappy homes, sells vacant land with condition of building new green homes. Simple. Having a big housing company come in will not work – they want to build the same old inefficient homes.

    I would love to keep government out and let the free market dictate. But if that is the case no company in a free market would ever touch homes in Dayton. Dayton is not paradise. We (our government) needs to have that type of vision. Any building company will just continue their old habits, which is fine. They have no reason to build green. But if city blocks are designated as such then interested parties may follow. Otherwise home builders will never come to Dayton. They don’t come now, so why would they in the future?

    One big problem is the government wanting taxes on these crappy properties. Lose that mentality and it may work. But we do need some government leadership, whether we like it or not, in order for us to move forward with this kind of idea. Otherwise, say hello to the most vacant city in America.

    Hello, hello, hello, hello…….. echos through the vacant city……..

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  25. Robert Vigh September 10, 2009 / 4:54 pm
    Gene,
    I am surprised that you think we need government to move forward. I just simply and whole heartedly disagree. It can provide a push, but the venues it allows for corruption and the taking from people are just to much.
    You think that because Dayton is not a paradise, no one would touch these homes? Get the government out of the way and they might. I chose to start my company in Dayton.
    Green is only green when it saves you money on its own Merit. Subsidizing it, tax incentivizing it etc, does not make it green. It makes it marketable, possibly wasteful, but not green.
    Anyone want to buy that property?

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  26. Gene September 10, 2009 / 6:19 pm
    I am under the impression that they own vacant land where new homes can be built. They should sell it to green minded builders for next to nothing, blocks and blocks at a time. As far as I can tell the free market in Dayton goes like this: vacant homes for sale, no buyers. End of GD story. That is it. Nothing else exists. No one, no company has any interest at this time or in the foreseeable future to buy and rehab or build on any mass level. Sure you get a Rudy and a Randy here and there, but that amounts to dog crap for progress. This is about saving this crap hole of a city. WTF do you want, the same old shit? Which, let me remind you, is nothing. nada. zip. zilch.

    People and companies can buy them now, and well they don’t. I don’t want too much government involvement, but they own land, right? SO if they do they should sell to those who specifically build green. Why green again? BC we need new industry and thought in this town. We and every other city have the same old builders. BFD. We need a NEW idea. Green could lead to , drum roll please, ………….. manufacturing of Green products right here in the VACANT Dayton Ohio.

    OR F*CK!!!! Lets let another city, another county, another state GD do it. What a waste of time this pathetic city is……. no wonder no one wants to move here. We have Rudy and Randy and Rhine and their collective IQ of 27 running this city.

    At this point anyone associated with this city should make it their goal to bring new ideas and new business to town. Period. Nothing else. SCREW SERVICES. We need industry and jobs and growth. This little BS paint jobs all over this city is putting lip stick on a pig. WE NEED SOMETHING NO ONE ELSE HAS. My easy, simple idea would create jobs without hardly any interference of government. They just happen to own a bunch of vacant land, which at this point they should sell to green builders who could attract green manufacturers. Or we can sit with our thumbs up are asses and watch other cities do it.

    Most of you people make this too complicated. It really is not that hard. But you are right in that government gets in the way. When you have city leaders who are no smarter than the cat crap in my front yard you get terrible results. Wake up and smell the coffee.

    Do one idea – see if it works – and if it doesn’t what have we lost? nothing, because we have nothing here in Dayton. Stop worrying about making it perfect or even making it fair – those ships have sailed.

    When a typical athlete says he is great people watch. Maybe he is, maybe he ain’t. But they watch. Say we are green, build green, people will watch.

    Now go ahead and make everything so complicated that the 4 year old boy outside decides a) to move out of Dayton when he is 18 or b) he stays here and when he is 30 years old he wonders WTF we (our generation) have been doing to this city, and then he moves out.

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  27. Robert Vigh September 11, 2009 / 3:05 pm
    So you want a government body to snatch up land and only sell it to certain people?

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  28. Gene September 11, 2009 / 6:08 pm
    They already have some homes and land, and yes I want them to sell it to parties that will build Green. You “block” certain sections of our pit and put specific building criteria in regards to being green. Yes, a bit one sided, but as of now no one wants these dumps. Someone has to do something. What is your idea, the SOS that isn’t working now?

    Or, again, F*CK, lets do nothing. Dayton seems good at that…….

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