NAUGATUCK — Overgrown grass. Peeling paint on the side of a house. Decks and patios that are falling apart.
These scenes are scattered throughout properties in Naugatuck and this is the time of year when they become more noticeable.
In an effort to combat these examples of what officials call blight, borough leaders are looking to expand the penalties for blight violations. A proposal that Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess plans to bring forward to the Board of Mayor and Burgesses, possibly as soon as Tuesday night, calls for blight to be handled as a criminal act and enforceable through the state housing court in Waterbury. The changes have been drafted by the borough’s legal counsel.
“It is our belief that these changes will meet the borough’s immediate goal of improving the physical appeal of the town through stricter regulations, holding absent landlords/banks accountable for upkeep,” attorney Timothy Fitzpatrick wrote in an email to Hess. “In the long term, less blight should improve the overall image of Naugatuck, increase property value and thus, higher tax revenue for the borough.”
Naugatuck allows 30 days for an owner/occupant to remedy blight. The proposed plans reduce it to five days. Additionally, Naugatuck currently only has the authority to fine people, which has been difficult to enforce, if they do not attempt to make upgrades.
Under the proposal, if someone does not fix the problem after five days, the case automatically will be sent to the state housing court. The state has the authority to fine no more than $250 a day so long as it is documented that someone has physically inspected the property.
Blight cases are currently handled by mayor’s aide Edward Carter, who tracks down owners and attempts to bring them into compliance. In cases of high grass or other landscape issues on vacant property, Carter typically will put a notice on the lawn notifying the owner that it has been deemed blight if he cannot contact them. If it is not cleaned, he hires a landscaper to fix the issue and then places a lien on the property with the amount of the bill.
That has been fairly successful, Carter said. In fact, he posted a sign on a property at a house at 28 Rough Wing Road that has been vacant for about two years; a bank owns it. The grass is overgrown and there have been numerous problems with it, neighbor Nick Perazella said.
He said it has been broken into, the pool has attracted many mosquitoes and even flooded the neighbor’s property and the overgrown grass and brush is unsightly in a neighborhood where most people keep their properties looking nice.
The proposed process in Naugatuck has been implemented in Waterbury, where a blight task force consisting of police, government officials, Department of Public Works employees and other city leaders meets once a week to discuss the city’s blight issues.
Michael Gilmore, the fair housing and neighborhood reinvestment manager for the Waterbury Development Corp., said people usually respond when a uniformed police officer shows up at their door and gives them a summons to appear in court.
He said 99 percent of cases are resolved before going to court. If the case goes to court and the violator does not show up, an arrest warrant will be issued for failure to appear.
Gilmore warns that communities sometimes need to be patient.
“We need to realize that if it didn’t get like that overnight, it’s probably not going to be fixed overnight,” he said. “So we give people a reasonable amount of time as long as they are making efforts to repair the problem.”
Naugatuck plans to do the same. Like Waterbury, local officials want to work with people.
Hess said he wants to find out if there are any reasons outside of the control of the property owner — such as financial issues or physical disabilities — that prohibit them from cleaning their properties. If that is the case, Naugatuck plans to find help for those people.
The blight ordinance that Naugatuck currently has will be amended if burgesses agree. The amendment currently says that blight poses a serious or immediate threat to the health, safety or general welfare of the people of the borough. It has various examples of what is considered blight, including abandoned vehicles on the property.
The borough is also adding a new definition regarding paint. It says that peeling, chipping or deteriorating paint on more than one-third of the structure’s exposed surface area is considered blight.
“The borough is going to begin making a concerted effort to begin enforcing our blight ordinance,” he said.