University of Maryland Extension

City-supported land access programs

Nicole Cook, B.S., J.D., LL.M., Environmental and Agricultural, Faculty Legal Specialist, Agriculture Law Education Initiative (ALEI), University of Maryland Eastern Shore

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“Vacants to Value” programs

Some cities have created programs to encourage individuals and investors to purchase blighted city-owned properties, for a relatively small amount of money. One such program is Baltimore’s Vacants to Value Program. The city provides a map of the properties that are available for the program. When considering an application to purchase land through Vacants to Value, the city takes into account planned development in the area and the applicants’ capacity to complete that development (i.e. the plans for the project and the applicants' ability to successfully achieve those plans).

“Side Yard” and “Mow to Own” acquisition programs

Some cities have programs that help residential or commercial property owners purchase vacant city-owned lots that are adjacent to their existing property either for very little money and/or for sweat equity. For example, St. Louis’ “Mow to Own” program allows a property owner with a vacant city-owned property adjacent to his or her own property, which might be used for an urban agriculture project, to take immediate ownership of the lot for a nominal fee. If they continually maintain the lot for 24 months, they’re eligible to be granted a deed to the property with a maintenance lien, which is removed after another 24 months if there are no findings of violations from the City’s Forestry Division and no complaints. In Baltimore City, a 2011 side-yard policy allows home-owners to purchase adjacent vacant lots smaller than 1500 square feet for $500.

Temporary lot adoption

Baltimore’s Adopt-a-lot program has been an entry point for many of the city’s urban gardeners and farmers. It enables community members to adopt vacant, city-managed lots. The agreement is a license to use and maintain the space, not a lease, and must be renewed annually. Adopt-a-lot participants can also apply for water access, if available, for $120 per year.

Land leasing initiatives

Baltimore City is piloting 5-year formal leases of city-owned land to urban farms through its Homegrown Baltimore land leasing initiative. The initiative provides growers with five-year leases, for $100 per year. In order to be eligible, growers must have one year of experience and demonstrate that their farms will be profitable. The lots remain available for sale and the city can revoke leases with 30-days’ notice. More information is available from the Baltimore Office of Sustainability:

St. Louis, MO has a Garden Lease Program that allows residents a 5-year lease for $1.00 a year giving the lessee control of the site, including fencing it off and building a community garden, until such time as the city is ready to develop the land.

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