Gary Thomas can often be found on his front patio, bagging wild onions which he then sells around Muskogee. It is exactly where he was Monday afternoon.
Also from his front patio, he can see the open lot across the street and a few more open lots down the block. If a plan being considered by city and county leaders is approved and proves to be successful, new homes could soon be built on the lots near Thomas' home.
"Lots of people don't like change," he said. "I love changes. Sometimes change brings on good things."
Which is why Thomas welcomes new homes being built on his street on top of the open lots, which except for a bit of trash and weeds - have sat empty for several years.
Muskogee's interim city manager Roy Tucker said the county tried auctioning off more than 50 surplus lots recently but received little interest.
"Of course their first option is to have someone buy them for the cost of the taxes at that time period, but if no one's interested, there is not a lot they can do except hold on to them and bare the expense of maintaining them," Tucker said.
Which is why county commissioners unanimously voted in February to hand more than 50 lots over to the city, instead of maintaining them. Commissioners report maintaining all of its surplus property costs hundreds of thousands of dollars every year.
Many of the lots sit very close to the center of Muskogee and its downtown area.
"A portion of town surrounded by much older homes," Tucker said. "Not a lot of new development probably in the last 50 years. So, any new development within this core would be welcomed."
The Muskogee City Council is expected to vote on a plan later this month to hand out the lots large enough to build homes on them, which need to be around 7,200 square feet. It will be first considered before Muskogee's Public Works Committee and then the city council.
If approved, then the lots would be handed out to anyone committed to building a home on the lots on a first-come, first-served basis.
"If your desire to build a home, then we will waive all costs of conveyance of that parcel of property," Tucker said. "That will fall under our housing incentive program."
Tucker said a few pieces of property are too small to build homes on, so the city may reach out to the property owners next to those lots. If the owners are interested in purchasing the property they could do so at a discounted price.
Muskogee city and county leaders hope new homes will lead to new ad valorem tax revenue. From his front patio, Thomas hopes development on the long empty lots will benefit him, his neighbors and the rest of Muskogee.
"If everybody can benefit off of it, people can get income, work, there is nothing wrong with that," Thomas said.
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