Property owners would no longer be forced to store garbage containers in their rear yards under a law that sailed through the Common Council on Tuesday.
The bottom line: Fewer people would face fines for improperly storing their totes.
Lawmakers voted to let people keep containers in side yards, as long as they are at least 10 feet from the front of the house. While Mayor Byron W. Brown must still sign the bill into law, its unanimous Council support would seem to make it vetoproof. And Brown's communications chief hinted Tuesday that the bill might be well-received by the mayor.
"On the surface, it sounds like a sensible solution to something that has been problematic to some people," said Peter K. Cutler.
Critics say senior citizens, the disabled and people who live in homes with narrow alleys have problems hauling totes into backyards each week. While individuals can seek exemptions to store totes closer to the front of their properties, Council members think the 2-year-old law is still too rigid.
An East Side community leader agrees. Atheria Ware, who has headed the Friendly Fruitbelt Neighborhood Block Club Coalition for 16 years, said her neighbor was recently fined $52.50 for storing his tote too close to the front of his home.
"I think it was unfair to him, because he's disabled," Ware said.
Bill sponsor Richard A. Fontana of the Lovejoy District noted that the new rule will still prevent people from storing totes at the curb or at the very front of their homes. The 10-foot rule, he said, should shield most totes from public view.
But does he worry that relaxing the rules might cause new problems, including neighbor disputes about trash that is being stored in between homes?
"People need to be good neighbors," Fontana said. "They shouldn't be putting the totes right outside someone's window."
In other action, the Council shelved a controversial resolution that suggests the planned closing of Catholic churches in Buffalo has the "whiff of ethnic cleansing."
The full Council already approved part of the resolution in June, calling on the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo to give assurances that it won't "dump" properties on unsuitable buyers. One of the preambles to the bill drafted by Council President David A. Franczyk made reference to ethnic cleansing.
There was no discussion Tuesday as lawmakers routinely received and filed the other portion of the bill. North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr., a resolution co-sponsor, said he had no problem shelving it, claiming the Council adopted the most important passages calling for reuse plans for vacant churches.
The Council also voted, 5-4, to overrule a Preservation Board recommendation and allow the owner of the Pearl Street Grill & Brewery to install some signs and canopies at its downtown business. Some preservationists argue the work will undermine the architectural character of the building and Pearl Street. Ellicott Council Member Brian C. Davis, who represents most of downtown, said he disagrees that the changes will have a negative impact.
Finally, lawmakers came out against plans by National Fuel to raise rates by 7 percent.
"I represent a very poor district," said bill sponsor Demone A. Smith of the Masten District.
The state Public Service Commission will hold a hearing on the proposed rate increase at 1 p.m. today in Council Chambers, Room 1417 of City Hall.