July 5, 2022

Essex Selectmen Consider New Proposed Blight Ordinance

ESSEX— The board of selectmen is considering a new proposed blight ordinance that would be triggered if a structure has been vacant and unoccupied for more than 30 days. Selectmen received a draft copy of the ordinance last week, with the board expected to discuss the ordinance further at a Sept. 18 meeting.

The ordinance drafted by town attorney David Roylston specifies that the town has the authority to “define, prohibit, and abate blighted premises”, to “protect, preserve, and promote public health, safety, and welfare and to preserve and protect property values within the town.” The ordinance defines various characteristics of a blighted property, including violations of the public health code, fire hazards unregistered and inoperable motor vehicles, dad or damaged trees, and accumulated debris. But under the new version of the ordinance, enforcement measures by the town would not occur unless and until a structure has remained vacant and unoccupied for more than 30 days.

This provision was not included in a proposed blight ordinance the board of selectmen presented at a public hearing in 2011, but never acted upon. At the time there were a handful of unsightly and unoccupied structures in all three villages, Essex, Centerbrook, and Ivoryton. Some of these structures have been restored or demolished over the past two years. A remaining vacant, fire damaged, and unsightly property at 63 North Main St. in Essex has sparked new discussions of a possible blight ordinance in recent months.

First Selectman Norman noted this week that he had opposed the initial version of a blight ordinance that was discussed while he was on the board of selectmen in 2011. Needleman said he was then, and remains, reluctant to get the town involved in “neighbor on neighbor” disputes over conditions on specific properties. Needleman said he asked Roylston to make vacancy the key provision that would trigger town action on a blighted property or structure.

The proposed ordinance calls for establishment of a three-member “anti-blight board” that would receive and review complaints about blighted properties. The board would include the town’s finance director, tax assessor, and a code enforcement official. If blighted conditions are present on a property, beginning with the more than 30 days vacancy, the board could issue a notice of violation to a property owner. The property owner, which could include a bank or financial institution, would have between 15 to 60 days to abate the blight conditions.

The property owner would also have 15 days to appeal a notice of violation to the board of selectmen. If a vote of the board of selectmen confirms that blight conditions are present, the ordinance would authorize the town to take legal action against a property owner, impose fines, and allow persons working for or hired by the town to take steps to remediate a blight condition. The ordinance would authorize the town to impose a tax lien on the property to recover the cost of any required remediation measures.

The ordinance specifies that each day a property remains in violation after the board of selectmen confirms a violation would constitute a separate offense, with fines beginning at $100 per day and rising to $250 per day for a willful and persistent violation “after notice and reasonable opportunity to remediate the blighted premises.”

Needleman said the board of selectmen could decide at the Sept. 18 meeting whether to send the draft ordinance to a public hearing. Depending on input received from residents at the hearing, the ordinance, or a revised version of it, could be presented to voters for approval at a town meeting later this year.