Norwich officials unanimous in supporting blight ordinance

Norwich - After two wording revisions and two public hearings with residents speaking overwhelmingly in favor of creating a new blight enforcement ordinance, the City Council Tuesday voted unanimously to approve the ordinance.

While most residents spoke in favor, speakers also expressed concern that the city would not put enough effort into enforcing the ordinance with the staffing needed in the building inspections department.

Nancy DePietro, a former city alderwoman, said she presented a list of blighted properties to the mayor and was ashamed of some of the conditions in the city and that a citizen had to bring it to the city's attention.

"I don't really think you have enough staff to take care of what you have," DePietro said.

She said if the city can't afford to hire more full-time staff, it should hire part-time staff to handle blight issues.

City officials hope the new blight ordinance will strengthen the city's financial position when abandoned properties are foreclosed on by big banks that don't respond to city pleas to maintain the property. The city already has a $100 per day blight lien under the existing property maintenance ordinance, and the amount will not change with the new ordinance.

Under state statute, with a "distressed properties" ordinance, as the blight ordinance is titled, the city's blight lien can take priority behind only back property taxes in mortgage foreclosure cases, city Corporation Counsel Michael Driscoll said. The blight lien would have to be paid, along with back taxes, when properties are auctioned or sold in short sales approved by banks.

"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.

Alderman Francois "Pete" Desaulniers said once the city passes the ordinance, the council would be obligated to ensure that staffing is in place to enforce it properly.

"This ordinance is a very good start," Desaulniers said.

c.bessette@theday.com
Twitter: @Bessettetheday

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