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Rod Watson: Border war pits upscale city enclave against nature's slumlord

Good fences don’t always make good neighbors.

Just ask the residents of Walden Heights, a hidden gem bordered by an attractive wrought iron fence residents put up along the eastern edge of Buffalo.

On one side is an upscale enclave that offers homeowners an attractive slice of suburbia in the city.

On the other side is Cheektowaga – or, more precisely, the town’s unkempt mess of uncut weeds and a huge berm that residents complain keeps getting higher and higher as the town piles up more and more dirt over the years.

"We don’t know what’s in the dirt," says John Leverette, president of the Walden Heights Community Block Club.

They also complain about huge rats in their well-kept neighborhood, rodents they suspect are coming from the waist-high weeds on the other side of the fence they erected.

Bakos Boulevard resident Karen Brim was walking the dog when she saw some.

"I looked closely to make sure it wasn’t a cat," she said. "They were large."

It wasn’t supposed to be that way for the neighborhood developed in the late 1990s.

A prior Cheektowaga administration promised to cut the weeds and maintain the area, said Leverette and Lovejoy Council Member Richard A. Fontana, who added that the Walden Heights neighborhood of homes valued at more than $200,000 was privately developed.

"It’s been a crown jewel for many years," Fontana said of the city neighborhood.

As long as you don’t look through the fence.

While Cheektowaga kept its promise in the early years, residents and Fontana say its maintenance efforts went downhill when a new administration took office.

The berm continues to grow taller and is overgrown with weeds. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

Bakos Boulevard resident Carla Pringle said she called the town supervisor’s office to complain and workers came out but did "a real sloppy job" as the berm gets higher and higher. Town workers cut a narrow path near the fence line, then claimed their equipment broke down "and they’ve never been back," Leverette said.

"They’re still piling up dirt over there, and we don’t know where it’s coming from," he said, expressing concerns about possible contamination and health implications.

If someone told you about a city-suburban border with responsible homeowners tending to well-kept properties on one side and a holy mess that was being ignored by negligent owners on the other, you’d probably guess the city was the guilty party. This impasse just illustrates how dangerous – and erroneous – stereotypes can be.

The neighborhood has a park, a senior citizens facility and the city is installing a half-million dollars worth of new lighting, Fontana said.

All it needs is a municipal neighbor that will take care of its own property, instead of being nature’s equivalent of a slumlord.
"I’d like to see it maintained regularly – or funding for it to be maintained regularly, if they’re not going to do it," Brim said, referring to Cheektowaga officials.

Town Supervisor Diane Benczkowski did not return calls seeking comment.

Fontana said the city is considering cutting the weeds and the berm – even though they are not on city property – and sending the bill to Cheektowaga officials.

Even if such a step is not legally enforceable, it might get their attention.

Society has figured out a way to go after deadbeat property owners and deadbeat parents.

Maybe that is what it will take to deal with a deadbeat town.


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