Land bank ordinance legislation to boost lot cleanups in Pittsburgh
Some of Pittsburgh's vacant lots become dumping grounds for used tires. Others get filled with construction debris. Some are overwhelmed with knotweed, a thick and invasive species that has been a plague since Bill Harlak started cleaning lots 34 years ago.
Harlak is executive director of City Source Associates, the city's property maintenance contractor. He attempts to keep tidy 7,200 vacant city-owned lots, plus 1,400 the Urban Redevelopment Authority owns. His dozen employees clean perhaps 2,000 lots a year, he said.
“There's always more land,” he said.
Surplus city-owned property, whether a patch of grass or an abandoned home, drains about $5.5 million a year from the budget, according to the city planning department. The estimate includes costs to the Department of Public Works, Bureau of Building Inspection and police. A newly established land bank could reduce the cost — if it can succeed in selling abandoned properties.
Mayor Bill Peduto last week signed the land bank ordinance, calling it an “important and powerful tool” for neighborhood redevelopment. Among its acquisition powers, the land bank can receive city property transfers and sell them to private citizens or companies. Under state law, land banks can clear titles faster than the typical legal process.
Before the land bank can begin, City Council and Peduto must select an interim board, which could pursue startup funding from foundations, said Councilwoman Deb Gross of Highland Park, who sponsored the legislation.
“It's so critical these days, in every budget line, to look for places where we can leverage external resources,” she said.
Maintenance of a property with a structure costs the city about $1,287 a year, according to city planning data. Vacant lots cost $595.
City Source depends on its public contracts with the city and URA. The company emerged from a public works campaign to clean up the city in the early 1980s. About 20 years ago, Harlak said, he employed up to 30 workers and had a budget of about $900,000. Contracts in recent years have hovered between $300,000 and $400,000.
Crews are responsible for mowing lawns, boarding up abandoned houses and removing snow.
“We'll be out here cutting this soon,” he said about a lot on Larimer Avenue near Joseph Avenue in Larimer where the city planted trees last year.
Jim Richter, executive director of the nonprofit Hazelwood Initiative, said neighborhood groups try to fill in the gaps with vacant lot cleanups.
“The lack of attention to those lots, by virtue of there being so many and the budget being so limited, has created a situation where the lots aren't really that well attended,” he said.
Harlak said resident complaints drive the priority list for property cleanup efforts. Crews work from the oldest complaint to the newest. Some lots nobody calls about, Harlak said, on streets where no one lives. But the crews know where to look.
“In the city, they're hopscotch,” Harlak said. “We'll go over here and get two, go around the corner and get two more.”
Melissa Daniels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8511 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Burgess’ rivals for Pittsburgh council nomination owe money to government
- Pittsburgh man identified as Manchester shooting victim
- Western Pa. experts say nonprofit mergers take work
- House floating along rivers will be new South Side Marina office
- Upper St. Clair lawyer pleads guilty to dealing in crack
- Trib recognition program celebrates young leaders in south, west area
- Hearing set for Homewood man accused of killing Lawrenceville resident
- Newsmaker: Dr. Clifton W. Callaway
- Wilmerding resident to stand trial for fatal shooting
- Ice cream safe to eat, federal officials insist amid listeria bacteria discoveries
- Appetite for fish proved fatal for Saddam Hussein, Iraq veteran says