Land Conservancy brings blight prevention pilot program to three vacant lots in Bay City

Bay County is enlisting the help of flowers, butterflies, and honeybees in the fight against blight.

The Saginaw Basin Land Conservancy (SBLC) partnered with the Bay County Treasurer to curb blight at three vacant residential properties where buildings were recently demolished. The Bay County program is modeled on a successful, 5-year-old blight elimination program in Saginaw County.

SBLC Executive Director Zachary Branigan says the partnership calls for creating habitat for a variety of pollinator species, including native butterflies and bees, on vacant land. County Treasurer Shawna Walraven says the low-cost project benefits the neighbors, the community, and nature.

“By using SBLC’s knowledge and experience to collaborate on the ongoing issue of maintaining vacant land, we are creating a win-win solution for our community,” she says. The land management project will not only keep costs low, but benefits the environment.

Partnering with the treasurer’s office helps the SBLC fulfill its mission of preventing blight conditions from becoming a problem in Bay City. Branigan says although only three pieces of land are in the program now, that could change.

“There is a potential for a number of lots to come online. We have the opportunity to maintain the lots using far less resources,” Branigan says.

The program began recently when three formerly residential properties, one on the West Side at 611 State St. and two on the East Side at 900 S. Madison Ave. and 506 Franklin St., were cleared and seeded with low-growing ground cover in September. The plants take little to maintain, Branigan says.

Maintaining vacant properties can be costly for taxpayers, who foot the bill to send workers to mow vacant properties about 20 times a year. In between those maintenance visits, the grass can grow to knee high or taller, providing a hiding place for trash or criminal activity.

For a fraction of the cost, though, the SBLC can clear, till, and seed a vacant lot. The property looks better, which is more attractive to developers. It also only only needs maintenance about three times a year. The seeds are resistant to drought and disease.

Branigan says neighbors are typically receptive to the program, even though some of the plants are traditionally considered nuisances. The low-growing wildflowers pose less of a problem than tall grass.

“As long as they maintain their lawns, they shouldn’t have a problem,” he says. Even though there will be a few more honeybees, the ground cover will keep the properties looking nice.

The SBLC is a non-profit, so the $1,500 annual cost comes from donors, not taxpayers.

The program is simple. Before seeding, crews used light agricultural techniques to clear each of the lots of turf and other plants. Branigan said they sprayed herbicide where necessary, then tilled and seeded. In order to make sure the seeds were embedded in the ground, a special cultipacker was used to help ensure the seed doesn’t get washed away. “That way we get a very successful planting.”

The objective is to maintain the vacant properties at a lower cost, which helps maintain the value of adjoining properties.

Each of the properties is owned by the county, and is for sale, but Branigan says while waiting for market forces to bring in buyers, the taxpayers won’t be footing the bill for mowing and maintenance, and the well-kept parcels will be more appealing to potential developers.

The program also helps the SBLC fulfill its mission of making land more useful. Unlike most other land conservancies, Branigan says the SBLC not only tries to protect property from development, but also strives to make it more usable.

“We have about 6,000 acres under protection around the watershed, but that’s not our only focus.” He says in the Great Lakes Bay Region there is a surplus of developable land. The SBLC wants to keep that property from becoming blighted. “We’re the only non-profit in the region that’s focused on land use, and we’ve developed a technique to make it more appealing – that’s the groundcover treatment.”



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