Shelton aldermen may toughen anti-blight ordinance

Aldermen may lessen the time a property owner has to clean up a blighted property before fines could be implemented and liens pursued. The changes would come as part of an update of the municipal anti-blight ordinance.

Under a proposed revision, an owner would have 30 days once a property is put on the blighted property list to fix the problems cited or fines could be imposed “for each day that any listed violation continues.”

A property owner now has 90 days to resolve the issue.

The minimum fine would increase to $50 per day from $10, while the maximum daily fine would remain at $100 per day. Unpaid fines lead to penalty interest of 1.5% monthly (18% annually).

Resident raises objections

During a recent Board of Aldermen public hearing, one resident strongly objected to the proposed changes.

The resident said the tightened time schedule would provide little leeway for special circumstances. “What happens if a person has to go to the hospital” or is out of town or is elderly? the resident asked.

“I’m thinking of people who have something horrible happen to them,” or don’t have the financial means or the assistance of family or friends to fix the problem, she said after the meeting.

The resident said in her neighborhood, some people have complained about the condition of a property that belongs to a woman in her 80s with no one to help her. “Instead of fining her, why can’t we get together as a city and as neighbors to help her,” she said.

“You need to have compassion for some people,” the resident said.

‘Stockpile of wood’

The resident questioned some of the wording in the ordinance, such as a section that says having a “stockpile of wood” for an extended period is a potential problem.

“I mean, if you have wood out there someone can complain?” she asked, noting the ordinance also refers to the presence of paper and plastic.

While the current ordinance make references to issues such as missing walls, roofs or floors, fire damage, and structurally unsound foundations, it also refers to “garbage, trash, rubbish, boxes, paper, plastic or refuse of any kind.”

“Some of the descriptions here I wouldn’t consider blight,” she said.

Anglace: Process shouldn't drag on

Board of Aldermen President John Anglace told the concerned resident that giving more than 30 days “would just drag it on. It just prolongs the issue.”

When it comes to elderly residents, Anglace said, younger family members often are contacted for assistance but sometimes they don’t want to help.

He told the resident there’s another side to the issue — that of upset neighbors who want action. “If we can’t enforce it, we have people breathing down our neck saying it’s affecting our neighborhood,” Anglace said.

Following the resident’s comments, the proposed revisions have been sent back to the Street Committee to be tweaked.

Other towns are tougher

Alderman Eric McPherson, who chairs the Street Committee, said aldermen looked at anti-blight ordinances from 60 other communities when deciding what revisions to make — and many towns have “far tougher regulations” than Shelton.

Alderman Jack Finn agreed, saying the proposed Shelton revisions still are weaker than those in many other communities.

McPherson said Shelton property owners once had up to 180 days to present a corrective plan before the city would start issuing fines, and that was too long. “We all agreed to reduce this to get people to respond,” he said.

Current fines too low?

McPherson said the current $10-a-day fine is too little, because people “blow you off” for such a small amount.

He supports the proposed $50 a day for the first incident and $100 for the second time, and wanted fines to be even higher but had to compromise to get the revisions out of committee. He said the state limit is $250 a day.

McPherson said the city’s anti-blight enforcement officer is reasonable and attempts to work with people. The goal isn’t to collect fines but to get the problem resolved, he emphasized.

But he said being tough can be the only way to get some property owners to act — such as in the case involving the owner of downtown apartment buildings that dragged on for three years.

“He kept getting fined and fined but he did nothing” until the city began to foreclose on him, McPherson said.