Blight ordinance being reviewed by town
By Gregory A. Scibelli - Staff Writer
Windsor Locks - posted Fri., Jul. 22, 2011
“Blight” is the eyes of the beholder.
The tightening of the blight ordinance has been a hot topic during the past several Board of Selectmen meetings in Windsor Locks, and First Selectman Steven Wawruck and outgoing Police Chief John Suchocki, Jr. are both looking to make sure the ordinance still gives the town the opportunity to gain compliance and work with residents.
There has been a rise in blight complaints during 2011, and complaints to date have outnumbered the total complaints during 2010.
“The number is a little bit high right now,” said Wawruck. “And a lot of people have their own view of what is blighted property.”
There are two key messages Wawruck and Suchocki are looking to send to residents about the blight ordinance and any changes made to it. They are looking to enforce the intent of the law and work with people.
“We do not wish to go out and fine people and keep handing out tickets,” said Suchocki. “We’re not here to micromanage people’s homes, and we don’t want to be telling everyone what to do.”
Wawruck said the Town of Windsor Locks does take blight complaints seriously, and both he and Suchocki investigate the complaints to verify whether they qualify as blight incidents, or something else.
“We have had several incidents where the issue being complained about was a building code violation or a zoning issue,” said Wawruck. “We take those complaints and we refer them to the proper department for enforcement.”
Blight complaints are typically investigated and then a letter is sent to the resident in question. If compliance is not gained, a second letter may be sent. The next step could be one or two fines, though the town does have discretion to fine a resident up to $100 per day for a violation.
“We typically do not have to get into fines,” said Suchocki. “Compliance is typically gained by the letter. People usually do not want to get into fines.”
Wawruck said there have been eight to 10 other incidents that have involved further action, including the town spending money to clean up lawns or other unsightly issues at a home. Those homes have typically been abandoned or foreclosed.
To recover the costs incurred by the town, that amount is added to the property tax bill, and is part of the lien placed on the property by the town. The addition of cleanup costs to a property tax bill is allowed by state statute. It also makes the town first on the list to collect money on the lien.
“It allows us to recover the costs we have incurred by having someone do a cleanup, or remove debris or mow the lawn,” Wawruck said.
Several meetings have been held during recent months on a revised blight ordinance, and revised areas of the ordinance have included the ability for the first selectman to appoint a designee to investigate incidents.
Currently, complaints come to the selectman’s office, and are referred to the police department. Wawruck said he also does investigate properties in question. The revised ordinance also more specifically defines what qualifies as blight, and what does not.
Blighted property can include dilapidated building structures or land, one that may attract illegal activity, one that could be considered a fire hazard, a property that has excessive trash or debris build-up on it, or collapsed or missing walls.
Wawruck said materials left on the side of the road can also qualify as blight. He said there are procedures in place. For example, a third-party pick-up service called Paine’s is used by the town to pick up appliances and mattress. Mattress removal costs $30. Pick-up of appliances is free. It is not allowed to leave mattresses and other appliances on the side of the road for excessive amounts of time.
Through input from recent public hearings, Wawruck and the selectmen believe residents want more “teeth” in the law and for it to be more stringent. Wawruck said, with the economic downturn, everyone has their own difficulties and they are seeking to work with people.
“We have a better than 90 percent compliance in these issues,” said Wawruck. “The rest of the people we want to work with, if at all possible.”
The town also has specific ordinances for similar issues, including a garbage and junk car ordinance. Discussion will continue at the next Board of Selectmen meeting, scheduled for Aug. 1.