Groton Town Council considers blight ordinance

Groton - The Groton Town Council is considering a blight ordinance that would fine property owners $10 to $100 a day if they allow their buildings and yards to become unsightly and leave them that way.

The proposed townwide ordinance, introduced Tuesday, would define blight as properties deemed "a serious or immediate threat to the health, safety and welfare of the community," those deemed fire hazards and those becoming "dilapidated."

Dilapidated would include properties with missing, broken or boarded-up windows for more than six months, yards strewn with trash, lawns taller than 2 feet, properties infested with rodents and structures with collapsing or missing walls and roofs.

"It's not fair for the rest of the community to have to be subjected to this kind of visual eyesore," said Town Manager Mark Oefinger.

While the ordinance won't "instantaneously change the character of the community," he said it would give the town another tool to deal with property owners who let their buildings or yards go.

Anastasios Tamtelen said he has had to look at the overgrown thicket next door for six years. Tamtelen owns Groton Townhouse Family Restaurant on Route 12, and the property adjacent to his has grown into a jungle of bamboo more than 15 feet tall in some places, obscuring the windows of his restaurant, he said.

Wooden planks on the building next door are falling down; weeds have taken over the parking lot.

"They have a sign 'for sale.' I guess the price is too high and no one's buying it," Tamtelen said. He said the building doesn't bother him, but the bamboo and grass do because people can't see his restaurant sign. He cut the thicket himself about two years ago, but he doesn't want to get into trouble.

"Somebody should come in here and clean this up," he said.

According to town records, the property is owned by Cassette LLC, of which Gretchen Chipperini is listed as agent under the state's website for registering businesses. The Chipperini family owned the house at 23 Library St. in Mystic that was the subject of controversy among neighbors and destroyed by arson fire in 2008. Groton town officials took Chipperini to court almost a year after the fire to enforce an order that the house be demolished for safety reasons.

Chipperini, who now lives in Westerly, could not be reached for comment.

A public hearing on the ordinance is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 6 in the Town Hall Annex. If approved by the Town Council, it would take effect in 45 days unless the Representative Town Meeting vetoes it.

The ordinance would be enforced by officers designated by the town manager. Oefinger said he plans to use current staff, given the town's budget constraints.

Zoning Enforcement Officer Lee Treadway said that under current regulations, the town can require a property owner to board up a building to prevent trespassing and demolish it if the structure becomes unsafe. But properties may linger in a boarded-up state for years, he said.

A blight ordinance would speed up this process and would likely be applied to the worst cases, Treadway said.

Under the measure, property owners would be notified of a violation first by an enforcement officer and given time to clean up the property. If the owner failed to act, the town would then issue a civil fine of $10 to $100 per day, and could turn the matter over to the state court system to collect the fine and order the property cleaned.

Ultimately, the town could place a lien on the property.

Oefinger said the ordinance is only as good as its enforcement. Most people will "do the right thing" when reminded, he said, but they have to be held accountable.

"The key to all of this is constant follow-up, and being fair and being reasonable, but being firm," he said. "Because there are people out there who will tell you everything and then do nothing."

d.straszheim@theday.com

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