MANSFIELD -- The Richland County Land Bank's board of directors Wednesday authorized a lawsuit against a Sandusky-based non-profit organization.
The lawsuit is an effort to re-acquire six parcels of land located on Dillon and Crandal roads in Mansfield. The land bank sold the parcels for $356 in August 2018 to Crystal Tower Women's and Children's Shelter for the purpose of building six tiny houses for veterans.
But less than a year after acquiring the property, Crystal Tower withdrew its city planning request to build the housing units and sold part of the property to a private citizen.
Land bank manager Amy Hamrick told the board that she contacted the organization's founder and president, Alysia Gilliam, after the City of Mansfield notified her of the city planning request withdrawal on May 9, 2019.
"(Gilliam) indicated that she could not raise the required monies to build housing; she intended to put property up for sale," Hamrick wrote in a board meeting slideshow.
A restrictive deed covenant, which was part of the sale, required Crystal Tower to remain the sole owner of the property and use it for non-profit purposes for a minimum of five years.
After informing Gilliam she could not sell the property due to the deed restriction, Hamrick said Gilliam verbally agreed to sign the property back over to the land bank.
Hamrick stated multiple phone conversations occurred between her and Gilliam during the six months that followed and that Gilliam seemed willing to sign over the property, sending back all the required paperwork with the exception of the deed.
It wasn't until last week that a land bank employee realized that three of the six parcels had been sold for $4,000. Upon examining the deed, the employee found Gilliam had signed the parcels over on April 4, 2019, but the sale had not been recorded until May 17.
"She had indicated that she was going to sign them back over and I didn't realize she sold part of them to somebody else," Hamrick said. "If (the sale) had gone through a normal title company or mortgage company, anyone, they would not have sold it because of (the deed) restriction."
In an email to Richland Source, Gilliam claimed she was not aware of the conditions of the deed restriction when she sold the land.
"I was unaware I wasn't allowed to sell the parcels. Our organization had invested greatly within the property and we attempted to recuperate what we had lost in the property," she wrote.
Gilliam said that Crystal Tower ceased the project due to a lack of funding and "the violent environment" caused by neighbors.
"They began creating a threatening environment by cursing at and becoming belligerent with myself, my paid workers as well as my volunteers almost daily," Gilliam said in regards to her organization's efforts to clean up the property.
Gilliam claimed the land bank had been inconsistent in its communication and not yet provided her with the paperwork necessary to return the parcels.
"I have been attempting to get this back to the land bank in Mansfield since May 6, 2019 and have seen a one-month gap between almost every communication. As I stated prior, I would be more than happy to get the documents signed and taken care of. I have to receive the correct ones in order to do that," she wrote.
After Marilyn John, a Richland County commissioner and member of the land bank board, asked whether the actions of Crystal Tower may constitute fraud, the board authorized the land bank to file a lawsuit and also to pass along information regarding the case to law enforcement.
Additional actions by the board included:
-- approving an expenditure of $13,000 for a one-year agreement with eProperty Plus software services.
-- authorized an expenditure of $1,000 to remove an abandoned school bus from Herring Avenue.
-- approved resolution to prioritize new development and create wide-ranging, sustainable growth in housing, economic, commercial, industrial, urban farming and recreation opportunities.