Last week at a Special Town Meeting, the electors set the date and time for a machine vote on the proposed Anti-Blight Ordinance. The vote will be held on Saturday, January 12 from 12:00 PM to 8:00 PM, and all voters, regardless of district will vote at Meeting House Hill School. As many know, this will be the fourth vote on a blight ordinance in New Fairfield. The previous two Administrations saw the need for such an ordinance, and after researching the topic and viewing blighted properties in Town firsthand, I do too. Over the course of my first year in office, multiple residents from different areas throughout Town have come to share their concerns about blighted, mostly abandoned, properties in their neighborhoods. The structures have become attractive nuisances, attracting vandals, squatters and worse. These residents were not complaining about the length of their neighbor’s grass, the color of their paint or their landscaping choices. They have justifiable concerns about the safety and security of their community. The goal of the Anti-Blight Ordinance is not to infringe upon anyone’s property rights, but to give relief to New Fairfield residents living under these circumstances. I urge everyone to read through the proposal carefully before making a decision and to consider what it is like to live near an abandoned, dilapidated and potentially dangerous property. The proposed ordinance would give the town the authority and process necessary to correct such situations in a timely manner. It is NOT intended to regulate aesthetic issues, but rather to address valid health and safety concerns. The ordinance also gives special consideration to those who may need time or assistance to correct violations due to age, disability or income and excludes properties undergoing renovation and farms as defined by statute. Copies of the proposed ordinance are available on the website, www.newfairfield.org and also in the Selectman’s Office.
The proposed ordinance is very different from the ordinance proposed in the past, and was composed with input from the public at Board of Selectmen meetings beginning in August of last year and at two Public Hearing. The proposal was modeled after longstanding ordinances from surrounding towns, and was modified to reflect residents’ concerns regarding the definition of “blighted premises”, review and enforcement of blight related complaints and special considerations for those residents unable to afford needed repairs. The ordinance also requires a written complaint to begin the process. Highlights of the proposal follow below.
The ordinance includes an unambiguous and specific definition of “blighted premises” which is reliant upon building, health and safety codes or specific conditions. A summary follows below:
Any building, structure or parcel of land, …in which at least one of the following conditions exists:
Special considerations, including extra time to correct a violation may be given to an elderly individual who is unable to personally correct a violation due to his or her age; a disabled individual who is unable to personally correct a violation due to his or her disability; or a low-income individual who is unable to correct a violation due to cost. Additional assistance may also be available through local volunteer organizations.
The ordinance establishes a Blight Prevention Board made up of the Fire Marshal, Health Director, Building Official, Zoning Enforcement Officer and one member of the public at large. The Board shall oversee a well -defined review and enforcement process which begins with a signed written complaint identifying a potentially blighted property. The Board is required to investigate the complaint, and if a probable violation exists, issue a written notice to the property owner/occupant and abutting property owners. Such notice will include a date for a hearing, at which time all interested persons shall be given the opportunity to present evidence on the question of whether a violation of the ordinance has occurred. If the Board determines that a violation does exist, they will establish a plan for abatement of the violation, including the date by which work must be completed. If violations are not remedied by the prescribed date, the owner/occupant shall be subject to fines and a citation. If the owner fails to remedy the violation, the Town may remediate the cause of the violation at the expense of the owner.
– Pat Del Monaco, First Selectman