Norwich plans public hearing on blight control ordinance

Norwich - With last-minute changes recommended by the city attorney to a proposed new blight control ordinance, the City Council voted Monday to schedule a second public hearing on the revised ordinance at its Sept. 2 council meeting.

City officials hope the new blight ordinance will strengthen the city's financial position when abandoned properties are foreclosed on by banks that don't respond to city pleas to maintain the property.

"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, but with a distressed premises ordinance, the ordinance would allow the blight liens to "jump ahead" of other liens in foreclosure actions, Corporation Counsel Michael Driscoll said.

The blight liens could take precedence in court, directly behind overdue property taxes as long as city officials do a title search and notify the owner and other lien holders, 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.

Driscoll said mainly, the revisions clarify language to be in line with state law, and clarifying that other city property maintenance and zoning ordinances remain intact.

He said new language also would give city officials the authority to go onto a property to correct an immediate dangerous condition without advance notice to the owner.

Aldermen agreed that the changes were substantial and required a second public hearing.

In calculating annual revenues, the city finance office combines blight and zoning lien fees collected. According to records in the city finance office, Norwich has collected $36,570 in combined blight and zoning enforcement citation fees during the past four fiscal years. The total includes one zoning fine of more than $11,000 that was paid last November.

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