October 6, 2022

Proposed Anti-Blight Ordinance Draws Mixed Response at Essex Public Hearing

"Blighted" property at on North Main Street at New City Street (photo by Jerome Wilson)

“Blighted” property at on North Main Street at New City Street (photo by Jerome Wilson)

ESSEX— A proposed anti-blight ordinance drew a mixed response from the crowd at a public hearing Wednesday, with the board of selectmen now facing a decision on how to proceed with the ordinance. About 80 residents filled the auditorium at town hall for the hearing, providing the selectmen with nearly two hours of public comment on the ordinance.

The ordinance drafted by town attorney David Royston, with some instructions from First Selectman Norman Needleman, defines blight conditions on properties, and provides for the establishment of a three-member appointed anti-blight board to receive and review complaints. But the draft ordinance would require that a residential property be vacant and unoccupied for at least 30 days to trigger town enforcement action for blight conditions. In the event of a continuing violation, the ordinance would allow the town to impose fines and take action to remediate blight conditions while billing the property owner or imposing a tax lien on the property to recover the cost of any clean up expense.

Needleman, who was against a blight ordinance when the board of selectmen last considered the idea in 2011, said he was presenting the draft ordinance now to receive input from residents. Needleman said he asked Royston to make abandonment and vacancy a trigger for enforcement to avoid a broader ordinance that could draw the town in to neighborhood disputes over conditions on particular properties. “I have concerns about administering it,” he said, adding “blight in one person’s mind may not be blight in another persons.”

But several residents expressed support for a stricter ordinance that would not use vacancy as a trigger for enforcement, with much of the comment focusing on handful of confirmed blighted structures in town that include 63 North Main St., 2 Prospect St., and an abandoned structure on Route 153 south of the intersection with Mares Hill Road. William Reichenbach, who lives near the North Main St. property, said vacancy should not be the only trigger for enforcement action. “A house is blighted or it is not blighted whether someone is living in it or not,” he said. Reichenbach and others contended blighted properties quickly reduce property values for homes in the surrounding neighborhood.

Several residents urged Needleman to use existing public health, fire safety, and building codes to pursue enforcement action against blighted structures. Needleman said the town is taking action on certain properties, with former Building Official Keith Nolin issuing demolition orders for two structures before he retired from the job last month. Needleman said acting Building Official David Deleeuw would be conducting new inspections in the coming days at some properties based on complaints filed with the town.

Other residents contended a blight ordinance may be unnecessary if the town pursues aggressive enforcement action on other code violations. Some residents said the proposed ordinance is “an overreach” that could expose the town to additional legal expenses, and problems recovering the costs incurred in taking action to remediate blighted properties.

Needleman advised the crowd the board of selectmen may not take any immediate action on a blight ordinance because the General Assembly is expected to consider proposed statewide anti-blight standards in the 2014 legislative session that begins in February. The board of selectmen is expected to discuss the input received at the public hearing at an upcoming meeting.

When the discussion resumes, there will be a new member of the board of selectmen. New Republican Selectman Bruce Glowac, who served previously as first selectman from 1991-1995, will take office on Tuesday. Glowac was present for the hearing Wednesday.