Imagine this. You’ve been putting away a few dollars every month. Before long, you have enough extra money saved to purchase a parcel of land in your neighborhood held by the Muncie Land Bank (MLB). You are imagining a new life for this vacant lot. What comes to mind?
Are you starting a garden? Is there a parcel in your neighborhood that could be transformed into a neighborhood pocket park? Do you envision people learning something new on a property that has previously gone unused for years? Do you need some additional space to expand your current business operations?
The latter question was exactly the space for small business entrepreneur, Kaleb Stocker. In May of 2022, Stocker, a young Muncie resident with aspirations to construct an outdoor shed and greenhouse to use in his growing horticulture business, bid on a property in the MLB’s vacant lot auction. Kaleb’s bid passed through the MLB vetting process except for one hangup – the agricultural nature of what he was proposing was not permitted by the County’s zoning ordinances.
Located just across the street from the closed Sutton elementary building on the southeast side of town, the parcel of land lay unused for years. Prior to being acquired by the MLB in December of 2021, the land had been held by the Muncie Redevelopment Commission as far back as the records show to 2009. In August of 2022, the land was sold to Kaleb Stocker for $300 and his dream of continuing to develop his greenhouse operation took a step forward.
How does the MLB make possible the productive reuse of a piece of land that has been vacant for so long?
In the case of 3019 E Memorial, MLB worked with Kaleb to change the zoning use of the property. In his application to the MLB, Kaleb explained that he would use the land to build multiple greenhouse structures and grow his business operations. It would have been easy to tell Kaleb that his bid was not suitable because of the residential zoning on 3019 E Memorial. Instead, we approved Kaleb’s bid on the condition that he worked to get the property rezoned. To folks who are unfamiliar with the process, rezoning can feel overwhelming and time consuming. In Kaleb’s case, we offered to help guide him through the process.
Joe Fillenwarth, the MLB’s Inventory and Data Manager, was responsible for walking Kaleb through the process of securing a legal variance for the property. The task was laborious and time-consuming. It required drawing up site plans, sending notice letters to 46 nearby property owners, coordinating with county planners and finally presenting Kaleb’s proposal to the Board of Zoning Appeals, which was ultimately approved. In all, the process took nearly two months.
After thirteen years of sitting vacant, 3019 E Memorial now has a renewed purpose.
Since receiving the property at the end of last summer, Kaleb has cleared the lot of all debris and has been working to get the land prepared for next year’s planting season. Kaleb has also kept the lot mowed and paid fall taxes in full, which is likely the first time that 3019 E Memorial has had an owner pay property taxes on it in more than a decade.
At the end of the process Kaleb was set up to clear some brush, pick up trash, and prep for the spring. This Spring he says that he looks forward to “creating an urban farm / forest and growing an immense amount of food with as little technology and input as possible.” His passion for the community also shows in his excitement to continue showing people that growing food in an urban space is possible from small scale to large scale. He also included that “Working with the Land Bank was so easy, you guys worked with me throughout every step and I greatly appreciated it!”
The MLB is always looking for new and innovative ideas that will help shape and improve our shared communities. Do you have an idea that needs a piece of land to help it become reality? Propose your idea via the MLB online vacant lot auction. Together we can start to restore abandoned lots in our communities to productive use!