Officials fear blight hurting development

BEACON FALLS — Officials are worried that blight may be hindering economic development in town.

The Economic Development Commission has expressed concerns that blight could drive away potential businesses looking to come to Beacon Falls and people looking for a new place to call home.

“Basically the concern is that we want to be an attractive community for people that might want to move here,” Economic Development Commission Chairman John Betkoski said. “It’s as our job as the EDC to make the town as attract as possible to come and invest in and live here and raise a family here. If we have situation where people are not conforming to code, that has to be dealt with.”

First Selectman Christopher Bielik agreed, saying the town is keeping an eye on blighted properties.

“It seems like there are a few places around town that periodically creep back up onto the radar,” Bielik said.

The biggest area of concern for Betkoski and Bielik is Main Street.

“There are structures that are on Main Street right now that don’t necessarily lend themselves to the showplace atmosphere that we’d like it to be,” said Bielik, who did not go into detail about specific blighted properties.

According to the town’s Blight Ordinance, after the town is made aware of a problem the next step is for the zoning enforcement officer, the building officer, and director of health to notify the property owners and require they remediate the problem.

If the property owners do not abate the blight in what the town feels is a reasonable time, they can be fined up to $100 a day, under the ordinance.

However, there is a staff shortage in the Building Department that has made dealing with blight difficult.

Building Official Jim Tucciarone is currently doubling as the zoning enforcement officer, which means he can’t dedicate as much time to blight as the town would like, Bielik said.

“He’s filling all of those position. In fact he says about a third of his time as zoning enforcement officer is spent on blight,” Bielik said. “We’re working hard to try and keep up with all of those things. It’s not as easy as we might like it to be.”

Bielik said hiring a dedicated zoning enforcement officer might help the town keep up with blight, but there is no money in the budget currently to hire someone. Hiring a zoning enforcement office in the future would depend on whether the Board of Finance felt it was important to fund that position, he said.

Betkoski said another option to deal with blight is to restart the town’s Blight Committee, which has not been active for a number of years.

“Hopefully we would re-engage the Blight Committee to look at these (properties), sit and give people the opportunity to remedy the situation before it goes to next degree,” Betkoski said.

Bielik said he plans to look into what the town ordinances say about the duties and abilities of the Blight Committee.

“Can we get volunteers that would be interested in serving on that? I think so because I think there is a groundswell of people that would like to see something be done. If there was a way to capture some volunteers to assist in the process that would probably be the easiest way for us to do it, certainly from a cost standpoint,” Bielik said.

Bielik recommended vigilance on the part of residents to help identify blighted areas.

“We have to continue to be vigilant about it. It’s hard for us to get out and see where all the problems are ourselves. We really rely on the people of the town to report to us when they see things that are getting out of control,” Bielik said.

In the meantime, Betkoski said the Economic Development Commission will continue to work to bring people and businesses into town.

“We have a very engaged Economic Development Commission that is working to market the town in a positive and effective manner,” Betkoski said. “We are doing everything we can to enhance the town of Beacon Falls.”

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