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Falls seeking to get vacant lots in neighbors’ hands

NIAGARA FALLS – The city is making a new push to try to deal with vacant residential lots it owns.

The Falls wants to make sure residents, especially neighbors of empty city-owned property, know they have a chance to buy them.

“We feel like the best hands for them to be in are the hands of a homeowner who lives next door or who wants to do something productive with that property,” said Seth A. Piccirillo, director of the city’s Community Development Department.

Finding new owners for the properties will put them back on the tax rolls, lower costs for the city by decreasing the number of lots it is responsible for maintaining and, hopefully, spruce up lots that are eyesores.

Piccirillo’s department launched a marketing campaign for the initiative last week.

Under the “Niagara Falls Open House Program,” the city will be reaching out to neighbors of these city-owned lots.

Residents who adjoin a vacant city-owned lot will be receiving letters from the city, but anyone can go online to find out more information about available properties.

The city’s Community Development Department’s website,, has a form residents can use to make an offer to purchase property.

There’s also a list of 50 featured properties, as well as the ability to search all properties in the city.

The ability to make an offer to purchase city-owned land has always been there; the city is looking to be “more transparent” about it, Piccirillo said.

Offers to purchase parcels are subject to review of city departments, with the City Council holding the final say on whether a city-owned property would be sold.

There are roughly 250 vacant, city-owned parcels, Piccirillo said.

Piccirillo told the City Council last week that the average price for a vacant lot has been about $500, which is typically below a property’s assessed value. However, he noted that the process is set up so potential buyers make an offer, so the city has no set price on the parcels.

The city has another program targeting vacant parcels already under way, through a partnership with Niagara University.

The Greenprint Niagara Vacant Lot Initiative, funded with $20,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant money, is aimed at helping neighbors turn vacant lots into productive uses, like community gardens, in order to show what could be possible, Piccirillo said. That project was set up under a 2012 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Council Chairman Glenn A. Choolokian said he supports the city’s new initiative. In addition to reducing the burden on the city and getting the land in the hands of a taxpayer, Choolokian said, the program has another benefit – allowing city residents who typically have smaller lots a chance to increase the size and their property value.

“It’s definitely a good thing,” Choolokian said.

Roger Spurback, president of the Niagara Falls Block Club Council, also praised the program, touting its potential as a revenue source as well as a way to reduce the city’s maintenance costs.

He said he commended the Community Development Department, Mayor Paul A. Dyster’s office and the City Council for moving forward with the program.