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Pridgen proposes pilot plan to keep vacant city lots mowed

As sure as there were snow-covered sidewalks on Buffalo’s vacant lots in the winter, there will be high grass on those same lots in the spring.

Common Council President Darius G. Pridgen wants that to end – starting in the Ellicott District.

Pridgen is developing a plan to help maintain city-owned vacant lots that pose safety hazards for residents and have become a point of embarrassment for the city of Buffalo. His plan is also aimed at getting better compliance from owners of privately owned vacant lots.

Pridgen’s proposal is for the Ellicott District, which he represents. But if the pilot is successful, the plan might become a blueprint for other parts of the city.

To begin with, Pridgen wants to get a list of all the vacant lots, and their owners. Letters will be sent to private owners in the next few weeks, reminding them they are required to keep the lawns mowed, and also reminding them of the fines they will be charged if they don’t keep the grass cut, Pridgen said.

Pridgen then wants a street-by-street schedule of when the city plans to cut the grass on the vacant city-owned lots in the Ellicott District.

Pridgen wants the schedule to let residents know when the city crews will be around to cut the grass.

But Pridgen says he wants to go a step further, and to encourage residents and community groups to help the city with the task, which in the past decade, city crews have been unable to complete.

Buffalo owns some 7,500 vacant lots, many left after abandoned, run-down houses had been demolished and the lots taken over by the city.

The city cuts the grass on a regular schedule, and has tweaked that schedule in recent years in an attempt to get an earlier start on the mowing. But year after year, city crews are unable to keep up, with grass typically growing knee high on many lots before the next round of cuts begins. Residents complain the tall grass attracts rodents, and worry that the overgrowth provides cover for guns tossed in the weeds.

Pridgen said he wants to meet with block clubs and church organizations on the issue. Pridgen said he would like to get help from those organizations in getting residents, or perhaps youth or other groups, to help mow lawns on city-owned lots. That plan, he said, would be for individual lots the city owns.

On some streets, he noted, the city owns multiple lots that take up huge swaths of the street. In those cases, if the grass becomes a problem, Pridgen said, he wants to encourage organizations to contact his office, so he can ask the city’s Department of Public Works to address the problem sooner rather than later.

If his grass-cutting initiative works, Pridgen said he wants to use a similar model to help get snow cleared from sidewalks in the winter.

While the city does cut grass on its vacant lots, it generally does not clear snow from sidewalks unless someone calls to complain about a specific city-owned lot. Most city-owned lots, as a result, remained snow-clogged this past winter.

Public Works Commissioner Steven Stepniak has previously said it’s more important for the city to focus its limited resources helping the elderly and disabled clear their walks, than to use resources to clear walks in front of vacant lots. Nonetheless, Stepniak told city lawmakers his department would be doing some research to help determine if there’s anything more the city can do to improve snow clearing on city-owned and other lots in Buffalo.