As complaints have poured in about unsightly conditions on many city-owned vacant lots, some Common Council members want to hold a summer sale in hopes of unloading properties.
But the city's director of real estate says he doesn't have the staff to stage a large-scale auction.
Meanwhile, the man responsible for overseeing a new cleanup blitz thinks crews are making headway. Public Works Commissioner Joseph N. Giambra said the rainy weather this spring undermined the new lot maintainence and mowing plan.
Responding to past problems, the Council passed a law forcing the administration to file an annual plan detailing how it will maintain about 4,000 city-owed lots. Three months after the plan was rolled out, Giambra is giving the effort a mediocre grade.
"I categorize it as acceptable, but not perfect," he said Monday. "There are so many lots out there, and up until a couple weeks ago, the weather wasn't cooperating with us."
The plan divides the city into three zones and makes specific city divisions responsible for lot chores in each sector. The city also bought new grass cutters, doubling the amount of equipment it can deploy.
The goal, Giambra said, is to mow every lot three times a season.
But some officials think the best solution involves selling many of the city-owned lots. Masten Council Member Antoine M. Thompson said many people are interested in buying land that's adjacent to their homes but face long and complicated legal proceedings when they try to acquire property through the Urban Homestead Program.
In a resolution that has been spurring debate in the Council, Thompson argues that a lot of red tape could be eliminated if the city sold many of its lots at auction.
"It could also generate needed dollars in tax revenue for the city," he said.
But City Real Estate Director John Hannon said Buffalo's experiment with a vacant lot auction several years ago "wasn't at all successful."
"Right now, I don't have the staff to accommodate a large-scale auction," said Hannon.
Some Council members are encouraged by mowing crews' progress in recent weeks. David A. Franczyk said his office received a "flood" of calls about grass-covered lots in the spring.
"But they finally seem to be catching up," he said.e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org