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Buffalo gets a jump on cutting grass of vacant lots

After years of criticism about its slow-poke approach to cutting grass on vacant city-owned lots, Buffalo City Hall is getting an earlier start on its lawn-mowing chores this spring.

City crews all this week were out cutting lawns on city-owned properties, starting on the streets off Genesee and Sycamore. By coordinating lawn cutting and bulk trash pick-up, the city got a two-week jump on the grass cutting, said Public Works Commissioner Steven J. Stepniak.

“We’re starting earlier,” he said. “We’re about two weeks earlier.”

The early start is part of a three-pronged approach aimed at keeping the city’s 7,500 vacant lots mowed this summer.

The city also will bring private contractors in to help with the mowing, using $150,000 Mayor Byron W. Brown included in his 2015-16 budget plan. Also, Stepniak said, the city is now seeding vacant lots it acquires with “low-grow” grass seed. The grass should be easier to maintain, and also will help with the Buffalo Sewer Authority’s goal to reduce run off into the city’s combined storm water-sewage system, he said.

He vowed that the city will keep the lawns mowed all season.

“We are keeping up with it,” he said. “Each year we get a little better. Each year we tweak it.”

Residents appeared appreciative that city-owned lots on their streets were mowed this week, before the grass got too overgrown. But they seemed skeptical of Stepniak’s vow that the city will keep up with the mowing all season.

“They did a good job this year,” said Willie Jones, 65, who lives on Guilford Street between Sycamore and Genesee. “Normally, they wait ’til it gets this high,” he said Tuesday, pointing above his waist. “It would get so high it was pathetic.

“This is 100 percent better,” he said. “They need to keep it like this all the time.”

Up the street, William Childs, 61, agreed the city’s effort is better this year.

“It’s good,” he said. “Usually, it can get up to your knees. We’d see rats and ground hogs in the grass.”

Childs was critical, though, of the tree branches the city left on one of its lots, as well the overall quality of the mowing job that was done. Based on years of frustration with the city, Childs said, he wasn’t ready to believe that city crews will be back anytime soon.

“We’ll see,” he said. “They do what they want.”

Council President Darius G. Pridgen praised the Brown administration for getting a jump on the grass cutting. Pridgen, who represents the Ellicott District, in April introduced a resolution approved by the Common Council calling for creation of a pilot grass-cutting program for vacant lots in his district. Pridgen said he’s glad to see the Brown administration is doing a city-wide program.

“This is good for the residents,” he said.

As Buffalo has taken ownership of more and more vacant lots left after housing demolitions over the years, the city has struggled to keep with maintaining the properties. In addition to the grass cutting, the city similarly has trouble clearing sidewalk snow from the lots. The administration is also promising to do a better job with that chore in coming winters.

Childs, one of the Guilford Street residents, was surprised to hear the city had 7,500 vacant lots to maintain, and seemed to better understand why the city has been unable to keep up with the chore in recent years. But he didn’t think that large number of lots, and extent of the work, should let the city of the hook.

“They should hire more people,” he said.