Borough targeting unkempt grass

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This unoccupied property at 714 Maple Hill Road is one of many the borough remediate if owners don't take care of its overgrown lawn.

NAUGATUCK — In the first step in plans to remediate blighted properties, the borough is setting its sights on overgrown grass.

Mayoral Aide Ed Carter, who was recently appointed as the temporary blight officer, said he has sent out a request for qualifications seeking quotes from landscaping services to cut overgrown grass at blighted properties in town. The RFQ is open until August 9.

“The intent of this is to be able to get three qualified landscaping companies that we in turn can utilize to abate potential issues,” Carter said.

Mayor Robert Mezzo appointed Carter to the position after the Joint Boards of Finance and Mayor and Burgesses didn’t approve a $20,000 line item for the position in this year’s operating budget.

Carter said he is focusing most of his energy on vacant houses, mostly held by large national banks, but some of the blighted properties have people residing in them.

“Local banks are very responsive and don’t seem to have a big issue. Local banks understand the affect it has on the value in the community,” Carter said.

Carter said he would be sending out notices to about 25 vacant houses and 10 occupied homes, asking them to take care of blight issues.

According to the town’s blight ordinance, Naugatuck can move to abate a situation if it is not taken care of after 10 days of giving notice.

Carter said he will be notifying owners of record on the property by mailing a warning letters to the residence as well as the location the town sends tax bills. He said he would also place a sign in the front yard of some properties to give notice.

“Our goal is to recoup the costs of this by (putting a lien on) the property for the work itself and any other administrative costs,” Carter said.

He said most of the properties in question are current on their taxes, but he expects the town won’t be reimbursed for some of the costs until the property is sold.

“This isn’t like a free landscaping service,” Carter said.

Borough-contracted landscapers will cut 2-foot-high grass at this 520 Candy Road property unless owners take care of it themselves.
Borough-contracted landscapers will cut 2-foot-high grass at this 520 Candy Road property unless owners take care of it themselves.

He said he hoped that in many cases the owners of blighted properties would take notice of the town’s actions and start remediation before the town has to move in. Carter added he is willing to work with property owners who present a plan of action for who is going to maintain the property, and some people have already responded and taken care of the blight on their properties.

He said a state law passed in 2009 requires owners of foreclosed properties to provide towns with companies that will maintain the properties, but most banks don’t do that unless prodded.

Most of the blight Carter is concentrating on is overgrown vegetation, with weeds and grass two to three feet tall.

Carter said the conditions could be dangerous for the sight line of drivers and blighted properties add injury to an already hurting housing market.

“Not only is this an eyesore to the neighborhood, but they’re hurting the value,” Carter said.

Carter plans to set up a process to make sure the town is consistent in its response to blight.

“We’re treating everybody the same whether it be high grass and vegetation or accumulated debris at the property,” Carter said.

BJ Forlenzo, co-chair of Naugatuck’s Blight and Beautification Council, said Carter’s actions are a good step towards addressing Naugatuck’s blight issues.

“I think we need to be proactive, and from what I understand we’re looking at foreclosed or almost foreclosed properties first because that directly affects neighborhoods. … We want to get the lender’s attention that hold these mortgages, that we’re serious,” Forlenzo said.

She said she was pleased that Mezzo appointed Carter as temporary blight officer. Before, Forlenzo said, people didn’t know who to go to log concerns. With Carter in charge, he will be able to take calls and follow up on properties to make sure issues are taken care of.

“Now with the blight ordinance we have the ammunition to address the properties with the lenders,” Forlenzo said.

To report an instance of blight, residents can contact Carter at blightconcerns@naugatuck-ct.gov or call him at (203) 720-7208. Residents can also send their concerns to Naugatuck Town Hall, Attn: Blight Officer, 229 Church Street, Fourth Floor, Naugatuck, CT  06770.