Borough will consider blight ordinance

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NAUGATUCK — The Blight and Beautification Committee has presented the borough board with a draft ordinance for review.

Though the board didn’t take any action Tuesday, it heard a presentation from the committee and agreed to schedule a special meeting for a later date, acknowledging that the discussion preempting a final vote might be a long one.

Nevertheless, the committee presented its ordinance on Tuesday, nearly a year after forming. The 12-page document defines terminology, establishes rules for the upkeep and maintenance of properties and sets out a framework for the borough to cite and fine property owners and, if all else fails, place prejudgment liens on blighted real estate.

The draft ordinance also establishes the role of a blight officer—though the committee did not recommend creating a new government position, saying the borough would have to make that decision.

The year-old Blight and Beautification Council has drafted a new ordinance, which would strive to keep borough properties clean and well-kept. The borough board will likely consider adopting the rules at a forthcoming special meeting.

“A blight officer [would] oversee the community,” Linda Ramos, the co-chair of the committee, said. “You can phone in, you can e-mail, and you can tell him, ‘Listen, there’s an area that needs to be looked at. We’re not saying its blight, you can make that decision as the blight officer.’”

Presumably, the officer would judge a property dilapidated, overgrown, putrescible or otherwise blighted according to three pages of detailed definitions drafted in the ordinance.

If an owner cited for a violation fails to fix up or clean their property within 30 days, a fine of $100 per day, per offense could be levied.

A citation board comprising three residents who are not borough employees would then hear appeals from cited property owners wishing to contest fines or citations.

“They’re going to have the advantage of making a decision for residents, whether or not it is truly blight or just a neighbor seeking something from a neighbor,” Ramos said of the citation board. “There are a lot of agendas that people have on behalf of themselves.”

Mayor Bob Mezzo acknowledged the provisions made within the language of the  ordinance for residents incapable of adequately maintaining their properties because of disability.

“Some folks may not have the resources to maintain their property, and that was looked at,” he said. “Some people may have gotten to the point where they just don’t care. … [The ordinance] wasn’t intended to magically solve anything, but to look at this problem comprehensively and holistically.”

Eileen Bronko, former mayor Mike Bronko’s wife, spoke out against the pending legislation during public comment, arguing many of the regulations were “duplicative” of existing borough ordinances, specifically zoning rules.

“Shouldn’t we be talking about more creative solutions instead of more fines?” she asked.

Ramos spoke to Bronko’s concerns later, during her presentation, saying, “The zoning officer cannot handle the amount of blight that’s in this town. We have a chief of police, and we have a fire department, but they all have their own jobs to do. The blight officer is going to orchestrate what needs to go to those departments. I think you need someone at that level” to determine if something is a fire or police issue or a matter of blight.

Frank Gianonne, who spoke on behalf of the blight committee, said the proposed ordinance is intended to stand on its own two feet and two establish comprehensive rules and a framework for enforcement.

“From day one, the idea was to make a comprehensive document that would stand on its own, that would not reference other town ordinances so the resident didn’t have to go looking through the library to find out what it’s all about,” he said. “They can read one document in one place and know what the rules are. We said, ‘As long as we don’t contradict what the other organizations said, we’re good.’”

Deputy Mayor Tamath Rossi added the process of drafting the ordinance was “very all-inclusive” and involved representatives of fire, zoning, building, police, and engineering and public works, who were “part of the process all the way through.”