The adoption of a local anti-blight ordinance this past summer has led to questions about how it will be enforced and the process for filing complaints. Taking into consideration aesthetics, property maintenance, health and safety hazards, abandonment, neglect, and other factors, Director of Planning and Land Use George Benson said that determining blight “is not black and white.”
A property “has to rise to a pretty high level to be blight,” he said. Mr Benson mentioned abandonment, broken windows, and “obvious neglect” as considerations for the designation of a property as blighted, which is a last resort, he said.
“There are a lot of factors to consider, circumstances and conditions. There are caveats before the blight decision is made,” said Mr Benson, who also clarified that “unoccupied is different than abandoned, as in not cared for at all. Then it gets to be a safety hazard.”
The gas station on Church Hill Road on the corner of Edmond Road, for example is “obviously abandoned and neglected.” The gas station is among four properties about which blight letters have been sent to the owners.
“[Owners] are responsible for upkeep,” Mr Benson said. When considering blight, “a lot has to do with safety. Say it’s burned. Kids might get in it. Something can be dangerous, like a swimming pool that is drained. It’s safety, not aesthetics,” he said.
Since aesthetics are based on judgment, he said again that decisions “are not black and white. It’s tough to regulate taste.”
Aesthetics do not have to do with painting the house or mowing the lawn, he said.
“We don’t tell people to mow their lawns. We can ask people to maintain their property, but can’t make them maintain it,” he said. “Obviously we encourage maintenance, and sometimes people try to offer [other homeowners] assistance, but that would not rise to blight, that is not what it’s for; it’s about safety.”
If the grounds are overgrown, “you can’t really regulate that. Most people maintain their homes in a nice fashion, but there are people who don’t and we do the best we can,” he said.
Zoning regulations, for example, can address junk in the yard, according to the land use official. If a house is a hazard by being open to animals, for one, “All these things are taken into account.”
The anti-blight language also brings all departments — building, zoning, police, land use, health, and fire — under one ordinance, Mr Benson said.
“Because we all have different regulations or codes — this gives us one ordinance or action rather than letters from various departments,” he said, and “makes it easier for our enforcement too.”
Anybody can file a complaint or call the Land Use Agency at 203-270-4276. Inquiries will be reviewed to determine if it warrants action, he said.
As stated in the ordinance, blight according to various subsections and unless excluded by additional subsection, can be considered for various reasons. According to subsection 1: a premises where at least one of the following circumstances exists: conditions that pose a serious threat to safety, health, and general welfare of the community as determined by the enforcement officer; conditions that attract, harbor, or conceal illegal activity as documented by the police department.
Per subsection 2: a premises not adequately maintained, as evidenced by one or more of the following: contains any building or structure that is open to the elements, has collapsed or is missing walls, roof, windows, doors; contains any building or structure that is unable to provide shelter, or serve the purpose for which it was constructed due to significant damage, dilapidation, decay, or severe animal, vermin, or insect infestation or; the premises is in public view and, as determined by the anti-blight officer, is neglected or abandoned.
Per subsection 3: a premises that contains material or equipment which is incapable of performing the function for which it is designated including; discarded or unused materials such as unregistered vehicles, boats, sporting or recreation vehicles; parts of the aforementioned vehicles, household furniture, appliances, scrap metal, tires, containers, and more in public view.
Exclusions include such temporary conditions not to exceed six months as may be reasonably relayed to repair, as determined by the anti-blight enforcement officer, provided there are no delinquent taxes owed to the town.
Special considerations may apply to disabled, elderly, low-income individuals; the town may provide such individuals with “a reasonable amount of time to correct the problem, the duration of which shall be determined at the discretion of the anti-blight officer.”
Additionally, the town may offer assistance in finding solutions.
To see the entire ordinance and language regarding warnings and enforcement, appeals procedures, and penalties, click here.