Old Lyme to hold informational meeting on blight ordinance

Old Lyme — The Board of Selectmen will hold an informational meeting on a proposed blight ordinance at 6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 12, at Town Hall.

The proposed ordinance, available on the town's website, www.oldlyme-ct.gov, outlines the definitions of blight, how the town would notify property owners of a violation of the ordinance, and the enforcement and appeals process.

The selectmen developed the ordinance with recommendations from the zoning enforcement officer, fire marshal, sanitarian and building official. The town attorney then reviewed the ordinance to ensure it met the state statutes, First Selectwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder said.

Reemsnyder said the move to create a blight ordinance comes as residents have complained to the town about some properties that they felt were blighted and requested the town take action. But without a blight ordinance, the town relies on the building, fire, health and zoning codes to address blighted properties, and there are limitations to what can be done under these codes.

For example, in the case of an unused property that may have a deteriorating exterior, the fire marshal can require the building be secured and ensure people can't access it, but doesn't have the authority to require the property owner take the building down, she explained. Each of the other codes also has similar limitations.

The proposed blight ordinance would add another layer of authority to address blight, she said.

For the ordinance to go into effect, town residents first would have to vote to approve it at a town meeting.

Properties, including residential, commercial and industrial ones, may be considered blighted if they have at least one of more than 20 conditions outlined in the ordinance. Those include a situation that Ledge Light Health District considers a "serious or immediate threat to the health, safety or general welfare" of the town or neighborhood; windows or doors that are missing, broken, or insufficiently secured; collapsing masonry; graffiti; a building or structure that the fire marshal considers a fire hazard; grass more than 10 inches tall; or water that has been kept stagnant or in unsanitary conditions in which mosquitoes could breed. 

If the ordinance is approved, the selectmen intend to appoint a blight enforcement officer who would determine whether a property meets the standard of being blighted, Reemsnyder said. The enforcement officer would be able to issue a written notice of violation of the blight ordinance to the property owner. 

According to the proposed ordinance, the property owner would have to take care of a blight issue within 60 days of receiving notice, but the enforcement officer could allow for a longer period, depending on the circumstances.

The ordinance outlines the process in which the enforcement officer can then issue a citation if the property isn't fixed at the end of that period and how property owners can appeal citations and discuss their situation with a citation hearing officer.

The ordinance allows the town to impose fines of up to $100 per day, if the town has to take action to remediate the property, Reemsnyder said. But she said that while the ordinance gives the town the authority to levy fines, the town isn't looking to impose fines but fix the issue. The fine would serve as a means to an end, if all else fails.

If blight remains at the end of the process, the ordinance would give the town the authority to remove a blighted building. Reemsnyder said the town would work with property owners to avoid reaching that point and would reserve this step as a last resort for extreme cases.

"We're a town that tries to work with people," Reemsnyder said. "At the same time, there are people who feel properties have gone unattended for decades."

Residents can email comments on the proposed ordinance to selectmansoffice@oldlyme-ct.gov or mail comments to the selectman's office at Town Hall, 52 Lyme St.

k.drelich@theday.com

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