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Thursday, August 01, 2013

Blight Ordinance Making its Way Through RTM

By James Lomuscio

Westporter Lou Mall, a Representative Town Meeting (RTM) member, invoked the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s comment about pornography, which was not clearly defined, to talk about neighborhood blight, equally unclear to some.

WestportNow.com Image
This house on Partrick Road triggered complaints that led to the proposed blight ordinance. It has since been torn down. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

“I know it when I see it,” said Mall, who submitted a proposed blight ordinance to the RTM for a first reading Tuesday. The RTM will revisit Mall’s proposed ordinance, co-sponsored by RTM member Jimmy Izzo, at its Sept. 3 meeting.

Among other things, Mall is calling for the establishment of a blight board to impose fines of $150 a day for an abandoned home that has become an unsafe, attractive nuisance, a place teenagers and squatters might congregate. Blighted houses also negatively affect the value of surrounding properties, Mall stressed.

“It all stated with an email that I received from a constituent,” said Mall, who represents District 2.  “He was trying to sell his home and had buyers backing out because of a blighted and abandoned property across the street on Partrick Road.”

The home had been “abandoned and neglected for 19 years,” Mall said, by an owner who paid his taxes and his mortgage, but who let the house deteriorate as a result of divorce proceedings. The home has since been sold and torn down, Mall said.

The man asked Mall what remedies the town could provide. Mall said he was surprised to learn from Assistant Town Attorney Gail Kelly that Westport has no a blight ordinance.

Closer to his own home, Mall, who lives on Ludlow Road, pointed to a strip of five dilapidated buildings on Post Road West, four of them abandoned and one with a tenant still residing in it. The entire thee-acre property stretching along Route 1 from Lincoln to Cross streets is owned by Cross Street LLC.

“It is demolition by neglect,” said Mall.

He said his proposed ordinance is not aimed at seniors, low income individuals or those who have allen on hard times and not financially nor physically able to make obvious repairs,  paint or replace rotten wood.

“Everybody has this hesitation, and we’re not trying to hurt seniors and people who can’t afford to fix their homes,” said Mall, who vowed he would first work with Barbara Butler, director of the Department of Human Services, to help those who ask for help with their homes.

“That was our immediate concern, so we have what we call special consideration where it provides for the elderly individual or low income one that can’t afford repairs,” he added.

“And this doesn’t have to do with the color of a house or that it needs to be painted, and it doesn’t have anything to do with landscape. We’re more interested in the willful neglect of abandoned properties of deep pocket owners who have ulterior motives.”

Mall again pointed to the abandoned Post Road West houses, particularly 85 Post Road West.

“Look up close, and you will understand what blight is,” he said. “I’m not afraid to say this. This is my district, and I’m cleaning it up.”

Izzo, who is co-sponsoring the ordinance, said it does not attempt to legislate upkeep or taste.

“It’s primarily a safety issue and an issue of trying to keep the value of neighboring properties up,” he said.

While preventing blight might seem a boon to historic preservationists, Francis Henkels, chairman of the Historic District Commission, has some concerns, a main one being that it might hasten the number of teardowns.

Currently, those who seek a demolition permit have to wait 180 says, Henkels said.

He said that waiting period could be expedited if an owner claims a hardship imposed by a fine of $150 per day.

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Posted 08/01/13 at 06:21 PM  Permalink



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the house on Partrick Road “has since been sold and torn down” I am not defending the property owner but it seems to me that somewhere between
total tolerance and additional legislation there is a solution to situations such as this.

Posted by Michael Calise on August 01, 2013 at 06:50 PM | #
 

And w/ a little bit of Googling, the owner of said lovely property on that ugly strip lives in Wilton.  On a very nice street, I might add.  High, very high property values, so I’m going to go out on a limb and “guess” that he doesn’t have good intentions, and that he’s let that property go, purposefully.  That’s not fair to the one tenant residing there, nor the surrounding neighbors.

Other towns have blight ordinances to avoid this sort of thing.  They also have senior and low income assistance for necessary home repair.

I lived in Westport for many years and am now in the town next door, but this strip has been there for years.  I see it and the one down by Stop and Shop on a regular basis.

It would be nice to see a remedy.  Good luck. I do all of my shopping in town.

Posted by Jean Marie Wiesen on August 01, 2013 at 11:41 PM | #