Niagara Gazette

February 27, 2013

Dyster announces "blight blitz" for the Falls

By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Mayor Paul Dyster has announced plans for a "blight blitz" that will target property owners who have let their buildings fall into disrepair.

Inspections teams will work in targeted areas, citing both residential and business properties in an effort to promote compliance to city codes.

The blitz is one part of Dyster's multi-faceted plan to tackle issues of blight and land speculation mentioned in his State of the City address, he said.

"No single initiative is going to resolve this," the mayor said. "It's going to require a complex set of policies, each of which addresses a different piece of the puzzle."

Dyster said that by tagging houses and business spaces that sit vacant with fines the city can make land speculation more costly.

"Our concern is that we have people who come here, buy commercial properties with no intention of redeveloping them or opening businesses there, but only to hold them in the hopes of selling them to someone else in the future to get a profit," Dyster said. "That type of activity in the market deadens the momentum toward economic revitalization wherever that happens."

The crackdowns from the inspections will not start until the weather breaks. Dyster is getting the word out now in order to give property owners a chance to comply with with city code, he said.

"This is not intended to be a surprise attack," Dyster said.

The city will use federal block grant money from the Community Development department's budget.

Seth Piccirillo, the city's director of Community Development, said that by targeting specific neighborhoods the city can get the most bang for its buck, a goal that is particularly important in the tough financial times the city is facing.

"We are trying to maximize limited funding," he said.

Piccirillo said that he will continue to work with the mayor's office and the city's Code Enforcement department to implement other strategies to deal with problem property owners.

"In the meantime these blitzes will work to encourage owners to keep up their properties," Piccirillo said.

Dennis Virtuoso, the city's code enforcement boss, said the community development funds will allow his department to be proactive in citing problem properties.

Short on manpower, Virtuoso does not often have the luxury of sending inspectors out to tackle entire neighborhoods, he said.

"We're a reactive department," he said. "In other words, when someone calls in a complaint we go out and take a look at it. We don't have enough time to be proactive."

Virtuoso said similar initiatives have worked to better neighborhoods in years past.

"We've done it before in the past and it worked out great," he said. "We had great results."