Hearing set in Guilford on blight ordinance

Saturday, January 31, 2009 5:52 AM EST
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

GUILFORD — After a more than yearlong hiatus, the Board of Selectmen will again take up a proposed blight ordinance at a public hearing Monday night.

The board discussed the ordinance and held public input sessions in 2007, but did not take any action because the town attorney made some changes to the document, First Selectman Carl Balestracci said.

Most of the changes had to do with terminology and making sure the enforcement aspect of the ordinance was legal and conformed with state statutes, he said.

The proposed ordinance would allow the town to cite and fine residents whose property constitutes “housing blight.” Properties that fall under the definition could include those that constitute a health or safety hazard, attract illegal activities, are open to the elements and dilapidated, and have garbage or unused items like boats and cars in public view. The ordinance establishes a fine of $90 per day for residents found to be in violation, and also sets up a Blight Appeals Committee to hear appeals of citations.

Balestracci said the town does not frequently have problems with blighted properties, but there have been circumstances in which town officials were not able to act because of the lack of an ordinance.

“It’s not that it’s a daily problem in Guilford, but when we do have a problem, it usually is in a residential area,” he said. “It’s something that the neighbors really over history have come to us and said, ‘Please, you’ve got to do something.’”

Groups including town planning and health officials and the Guilford Preservation Alliance contributed to the draft ordinance, Balestracci said.

The ordinance would give special consideration to the elderly, disabled or low-income residents, according to the draft. If someone cannot maintain their home because of these circumstances, the town may allow “a reasonable amount of time to correct the problem,” the draft says.

Balestracci said that some people at the 2007 hearing had questions about how many boats or cars would be allowed on a property. The draft ordinance says that it applies to vehicles that are unregistered or missing parts, and are “not complete in appearance and in an obvious state of disrepair.

Balestracci added that the blight provisions cover areas that can be seen from public streets or neighboring properties. “This is not meant in any way to harass citizens, it’s really just to give the town a tool to clean up situations that are problematic in some of our residential areas,” he said. “Of course it’s a hobby for (some people) to restore boats or to restore automobiles, so we wanted to be reasonable.”

He added that the ordinance would most likely be enforced in response to complaints about particular properties.

The public hearing is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Nathanael B. Greene Community Center, and the Board of Selectmen could vote on the ordinance at the same meeting.

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