Borough brings back zoning hearing officers

NAUGATUCK — The reinstatement of zoning citation hearing officers in Naugatuck likely means those in violation of regulations can expect to receive fines.

The Board of Mayor and Burgesses this month appointed three zoning citation hearing officers.

Zoning Enforcement Officer Ed Carter, who was recently appointed to the position after previously working for years as the mayoral aide, said the hearing officers allow the borough to pursue civil cases against residents who are in violation of zoning regulations.

Without the hearing officers, the borough was only able to bring criminal cases against violators because they had no way to appeal locally, Carter said. If the borough wanted to enforce the regulations, it would have to go to state housing court.

Now that the borough has the hearing officers in place, it can levy fines on a civil basis. Residents can appeal the fines the hearing officers, who are volunteers, Carter said.

Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess said this is the first time in years the borough filled those positions.

“It’s an additional arrow in our quiver. It is an effective means of enforcing our zoning regulations, so I decided to bring it back,” Hess said.

Hess said Carter, as the ZEO, would be the one to initially determine if there is a violation and then order it to be rectified. At that point, person deemed to be in violation has the choice to either comply with the order or appeal it, Hess said.

If the appeal is denied, a fine of up to $100 a day would be levied until the violation is rectified.

“When they reach a certain level, a lien could be placed on a property and the property could be foreclosed,” Hess said.

Carter said there is nothing in the zoning regulations that says when a violation needs to be treated as a civil violation or a criminal violation. Rather, the determination is left up to the zoning enforcement officer, he said.

Carter said this also give the borough some latitude in how it wants to move forward.

If a case starts as a criminal violation it is unable to be rolled back to a civil violation, Carter said. However, if the borough chooses to go ahead with a civil violation and the resident does not respond, it can be changed to a criminal violation, he said.

Carter expects there will be a number of smaller violations to deal with at first that the borough did not want to pursue as criminal violations.

“On some of these cases, we might find some issues that we want to move on. People may not be happy with us responding to issues,” Carter said.

Carter said he will try to not let the cases become a way for neighbors to feud.

“I don’t want to turn it into neighbor-versus-neighbor issues. I don’t want it to become a tennis ball going back and forth,” Carter said.