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United Refining cleans up second of five 'zombie' gas stations in Erie County

Billionaire John Catsimatidis Sr., whose United Refining Co. was criticized earlier this year for owning and neglecting five vacant "zombie" gas station lots in Erie County, has completed a beautification of the second of those properties, located on Buffalo's West Side.

The gas and convenience store operator, which runs the Red Apple and Kwik Fill chains, spent just shy of $15,000 to enhance the empty lot at 161 Grant St. As part of the work, crews removed signs, leveled the ground, removed weeds and brush, improved the drainage, added soil and planted grass.

The company spent an additional $8,798 for snow and brush removal, $1,202 for lawn mowing and $1,261 in property taxes.

The site is now a trimmed grass-covered field, bounded by concrete blocks. Company officials said they will also meet, at the site, with local community leaders and groups at 6 p.m. Aug. 8 to talk about additional efforts to "enhance and boost the beauty and future of Grant Street and the West Side."

"We have been a good neighbor and will continue this program of boosting neighborhoods, real estate values and goodwill," said Catsimatidis, chairman of the company. "We will continue to invest into a viable and vibrant Western New York."

United Refining was blasted in April by local and state officials for holding on to former gas station properties that closed between 1998 and 2009, but not maintaining them. The company owns a refinery on River Road in Tonawanda and 25 Kwik Fill gas stations in Erie County.

Amherst officials even considered using eminent domain to seize one at 159 Niagara Falls Blvd.

Catsimatidis responded in June by pledging to clean up the properties in Buffalo, Lackawanna, Amherst and the Town of Tonawanda, starting with one at 422 Ontario St. in Riverside. The company plans to lease that property to a nearby church.

'Zombie' gas station lots frustrate municipalities throughout Erie County

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