Norwich officials to look at blight ordinance

Norwich - City officials have proposed creating a new blight control ordinance that they hope will give the city better leverage against large, nonlocal banks that either own or have started foreclosure proceedings but don't do maintenance and upkeep on the properties.

The City Council on Monday is expected to schedule public hearings at a future meeting on two proposed ordinances to strengthen the city's battle against blighted properties. The first ordinance would update the city's property maintenance code, not updated in nearly 10 years, and the second would create the city's first "Distressed Properties" ordinance.

"It is hereby found and declared that there exists within the City of Norwich a number of real properties which are in a blighted condition," the ordinance starts, "and that the continued existence of such properties contributes to the decline of neighborhoods. It is further found that the existence of such properties adversely affects the economic well-being of the City of Norwich and is inimical to the health, safety, and welfare of its residents."

The ordinance defines numerous blighted conditions - including collapsing roofs, broken windows, unregistered vehicles, garbage and debris in the yard and overgrown grass and vegetation. The city already has authority to fine property owners up to $100 per day for blighted conditions. The fines would not change in the new proposed ordinances.

Alderwoman Sofee Noblick, a member of the city's Board of Review of Dangerous Buildings, said having the ordinance would give the city more leverage when dealing with delinquent property owners. With the blight ordinance, city liens placed on properties to recover the cost of boarding up windows and doors or cutting grass and weeds would have priority in court.

Currently, Noblick said, big banks will start a foreclosure and then leave it hanging in court. Then when a foreclosure is completed, the city's liens fall behind the initial mortgage and become wiped out when the bank takes the property for taxes owed.

"The main goal is to get the blight lien as a priority lien, before a mortgage," Noblick said. "Local banks are taking care of the properties, but the big banks are not."

Because the blight problem and foreclosures - including the city's tax foreclosures - have been burdening the limited Public Works Department crews, the city recently went out to bid for outside contractors to handle some services. Hyde Park Landscape & Lawn Care was selected to do grounds maintenance and Allyn & Associates to manage city tax foreclosures where tenants still live.

Edward Martin, the city's blight control officer, said the ordinance certainly would help the city recover maintenance costs. He said this week he gave the Public Works Department another list of properties where grass and weeds need to be cut, including the YMCA on Main Street and a house at 56 Briar Hill Road. The YMCA is owned by the defunct former agency, but Chelsea Groton Bank holds the mortgage. The foreclosure has not been completed.

"The work depends on the availability of the (Public Works) crews," Martin said.

c.bessette@theday.com

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