October 31, 2014

Public Hearing on Essex Anti-Blight Ordinance Oct. 6

Abandoned, burned out house at the northeast corner of North Main Street and New City Street (Photo by Jerome Wilson)

ESSEX— The board of selectmen Wednesday postponed the public hearing on the proposed anti-blight ordinance to Wednesday Oct. 6, citing a conflict with the zoning commission meeting on Monday.

The board earlier this month set the public hearing on the proposed ordinance for Sept. 20, and also tentatively scheduled a town meeting vote on the ordinance for the same evening.

First Selectman Phil Miller said members of the zoning commission requested the delay because the panel has three public hearings scheduled for  Sept. 20. He said some members of the commission wanted an opportunity to comment on the proposed ordinance, which has some overlap with zoning enforcement.

Miller added that he has received numerous e-mails and other contacts from residents about the ordinance since the draft document was published on the town website and in other media.  “It’s looking like we may have to make some changes and possibly hold another public hearing before there is a town meeting vote,” he said.  Selectmen Norman Needleman and Joel Marzi agreed there should be no plans for a town meeting vote on the ordinance on the same evening as the public hearing.

Abandoned house on Prospect Street, just off North Main Street (Photo by Jerome Wilson)

The ordinance, under discussion since early this year, was prompted by complaints and concerns from residents about three structures in town that were severely damaged by fire, yet remain standing in unsightly condition. The ordinance defines a blighted property, and authorizes the first selectman, or his or her designee, to take steps to remediate the blighted conditions. The ordinance, which includes an appeal procedure to the full board of selectmen, would allow the town to correct blighted conditions, including possible demolition of a blighted structure, and recover costs from the property owner.

The public hearing on the anti-blight ordinance convenes on Oct. 6 at 7 p.m. in the auditorium at town hall. A town meeting vote on the ordinance would follow later in the fall.

Essex Selectmen Set September 20 Hearing and Vote on Anti-Blight Ordinance

ESSEX— After months of on and off discussion, the board of selectmen has scheduled a Sept. 20 public hearing and town meeting vote on a local anti-blight ordinance.

The public hearing convenes at 7 p.m. in the auditorium at town hall.  First Selectman Phil Miller said the current plan is to open the town meeting and vote on the ordinance immediately after the conclusion of the public hearing.
 Miller said the vote could be deferred to another date if comments at the public hearing indicate residents are not comfortable with any aspect of the proposed ordinance. “They could send us back to the drawing board and there would be no vote that night,” he said.

The board began discussing a possible anti-blight ordinance last winter after complaints from property owners about three houses that have remained standing for months after sustaining severe damage from fires.The proposed ordinance was drafted by town attorney David Royston after a review of anti-blight ordinances in other Connecticut municipalities.

The purpose of the proposed ordinance is to “prevent or eliminate blighted premises” in Essex. It defines a blighted structure as one the town building official determines poses “a serious threat to public health and safety,” and contains “violations of the Connecticut Public Health Code” as determined by the town’s health director. A blighted structure could also be “a fire hazard as determined by the fire marshall or documentsed by fire department records.” The ordinance would prohibit blighted structures as a “public nuisance.”

Formal complaints about a blighted structure must be presented in writing to the first selectman, building official, fire marshall, health director or zoning enforcement officer.

If there is a determination that blighted conditions exist at a structure, town officials would then issue a notice of violation to the property owner. The notice of violation would include a description of the violations, and a deadline of no more than 15 days after the notice of violation is issued for correction of the blighted conditions. The deadline for compliance could be extended for up to 60 days by the first selectman or his or her designee.

Property owners would have an opportunity to appeal a notice of violation to the board of selectmen. The board of selectmen is authorized “but under no circumstances is required” to take remedial action to correct a blighted structure, including initiation of legal proceedings in superior court to recover all costs incurred by the town, “including reasonable attorney’s fees,” to correct a blighted structure situation.

The ordinance provides for fines of $100 per day for violations, and authorizes the town to impose liens on properties to recover costs incurred in resolving a blighted structure violation.

During discussion of the proposed ordinance earlier this year. Royston had cautioned the selectmen that the town could be unable to recover all costs incurred in correcting a blighted structure situation if a property owner lacks the assets to cover the costs. The provision for leins on parcels could allow the town to recover expenses if and when the property is sold.