Vacant lots next nuisance city wants to take down

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -  The city is trying to tackle it's next issue: vacant lots.  For resident Sarah Brown, it can't come soon enough.

"A branch of the tree fell on the fence and broke that," Brown showed FOX 4.

One side of her backyard is being overrun by vegetation and a tree is even starting to lean over her property. Brown said she feels she can't really do anything about it all. She said where the greenery is growing is partly city property. Brown said she can't afford to mow it herself because she is on a fixed income. She just tries to trim the weeds that encroach on her property. Brown said it's been a problem since she moved to her home in 1985.

The lot is one of about 2,700 vacant lots in the city and in Brown's Washington Wheatley neighborhood alone, there are just under 300. That is the most in the city.

"It's ridiculous.  It is just ridiculous," Brown said.

A Vacant Lot Task Force meeting was held on Monday to take a look at the problem. The city categorizes vacant lots to be residential, commercial or industrial. The smallest lot is seven square feet and the biggest is about 322,000 square feet.

"It's a huge issue, yes. Right now, we're trying to get our handle on the scope of it," Robin Martinez said.

Martinez works is a member of the Environmental Management Commission.  He said they are having a series of meetings to address the issue. He said they are looking to gather information from the public, city officials and more to present to the commission.  Once that happens, the commission will present it to the city council.

David Park, the Deputy Director of the Neighborhoods and Housing Services Department, said he hopes to curb how much the city is spending on maintaining these lots.

"It cost just almost a million dollars a year just to mow the properties.  That's like five mowings in the summer or growing season so yeah, it's a considerable amount of money," Park said.

He said residents call the 311 Action Center, complaining these vacant lots attract trash and that residents worry about their property values.  He said solutions to these so-called eye sores are hopefully coming in future meetings.

"I think, you know, if we can look at ways that the properties can be, say, converted to a garden for example, or some other uses of the property that would keep them maintained, but with a method other than just laying or mowing them," Park said.

But Brown said she is doubtful the city can keep up.

"I'm not going to hold my breath," Brown said.

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