Guilford passes blight law

Wednesday, February 4, 2009 6:29 AM EST
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

GUILFORD — The Board of Selectmen approved the town’s first blight ordinance Monday night after hearing from about a dozen residents during a public session.

The body split on the question, voting 3-2 in favor of the ordinance, with Republicans Cynthia Cartier and Joseph Mazza dissenting.

Most of the residents who spoke at the hearing said they were in favor of the proposal.

Mazza said he did not think Guilford had enough of a problem with blight to warrant a new ordinance.

“I understand there are a couple of properties in town that could be eyesores or could be a problem for the neighbors, and I’m sensitive to that, but I don’t see a need to put another ordinance on the books,” he said. “I’m worried about over-regulation, (and) I’m worried about property rights.”

But Selectman Salvatore Catardi said he thought the ordinance would assist town staff.

“I don’t think this ordinance is intended to be punitive in nature,” Catardi said. “The fact that there are fines will help move people along in compliance.”

When dealing with blighted properties that posed a health risk in the past, officials said, the town has taken owners to court. The new ordinance would make the process more straightforward and faster, allowing the town to levy a fine of $90 per day for a house deemed to be blighted.

The definition of housing blight in the ordinance includes property that “is in a condition which poses a serious threat to the safety, health, and general welfare of the community;” attracts illegal activity; is exposed to the elements, dilapidated or infested with animals; is “chronically neglected or abandoned;” or has garbage or unused equipment and vehicles in an area visible from the road or neighbors’ property. The ordinance says that the town’s zoning enforcement officer, health director and police officers will enforce the act.

First Selectman Carl Balestracci said that Guilford has had a few abandoned or trash-filled properties in the past that neighbors complained to the town about, but it took years to solve the problems in the court system.

“It doesn’t happen every day, but when it does happen we want to have something that has teeth so we can remedy this in a timely manner,” he said.

The ordinance also sets up a three-person Blight Appeals Committee to hear appeals of decisions.

In response to questions from residents, Cartier, who ultimately voted against the ordinance, said that it would not deal with “aesthetic issues” such as the height of grass or the color of a house.

“It’s addressing issues that were harmful to the community or harmful to the property itself,” she said.

Resident Carolyn Cooper said she thought the ordinance was both too narrow — in excluding commercial properties — and too broad in the number of enforcement officers who could determine whether a property should be considered blighted.

“Enforcement of the new ordinance as currently written risks several unintended and negative consequences to the welfare of the town,” Cooper said. “It is, frankly speaking, an open invitation to NIMBYism by neighbors who are intolerant of different lifestyles and it is an invitation to snobbery.”

Several residents of Mulberry Point Road spoke in favor of the ordinance, saying a property near them had been abandoned for decades, an issue they hoped the blight ordinance would address.

Joan Hickey said she thought having a blight ordinance could take the burden off residents in dealing with problems.

“When neighbors try to do this — that’s another thing the ordinance will help — it causes a great deal of antipathy,” she said. “Somebody loves that junk.”

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