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Building Innovation is a collection of stories by 90.5 fm WESA reporters about the Pittsburgh region focusing on efficient government operation, infrastructure and transportation, innovative practices, energy and environment and neighborhoods and community.

9,500 Vacant Lots In Pittsburgh Could Soon Be Ready For Adoption

The City of Pittsburgh wants to make it easier for residents to start gardens in the 9,500 vacant lots it owns.

City Council on Wednesday gave preliminary approval to a bill that would create the Adopt-a-Lot program within the Department of City Planning.

Assistant director of City Planning Andrew Dash said there is currently no formal mechanism for people who want to maintain, beautify or grow food in vacant lots.

“People were contacting their council representatives, the Mayor’s office, the Department of Public Works, Finance, Real Estate or City Planning and getting sent into the process in different ways,” he said. “There were all these different entities on the city side that touched vacant land in some way.”

The new program would allow people to establish flower, edible or rain gardens on vacant lots. There is no cost to the lessee unless they decide to sell the produce they grow; then, they must pay a $25 fee to the city.

Dash said this should be a low-cost way for the city to fight blight. According to the city’s open space plan, it would cost the city $595/year to maintain each of the vacant lots that it owns. That’s more than $5.6 million the city just doesn’t have. But Dash said leaving vacant lots to collect trash and become overgrown degrades public safety and neighborhood cohesion.

“There are costs to leaving these properties blighted, and the removal of those costs was what justified offering these at no cost,” he said.

In total, Dash said there more than 28,000  vacant lots in Pittsburgh; about 19 percent of the total number of properties in the city. When it comes to the 9,500 city-owned lots, Dash said most of them have liens against them and it could take several years to get the titles cleared for sale.

“Although there are some places that we have concentrations in places like Larimer, Sheraden (and) Perry South, vacancy is an issue city-wide and we see vacant lots in almost all of the 90 neighborhoods across the city,” Dash said.

Council is scheduled to take a final vote on the bill next week. Dash said City Planning hopes to open the Adopt-a-Lot application process to residents shortly thereafter. He encouraged residents to get their applications in by December so they can start planting in the spring.