By SHERIDAN CYR
Southington residents spoke in favor of the proposed blight ordinance language modifications that the ordinance committee recommended to the Town Council during their public hearing on March 12.
The changes were approved by the council in an 8-1 vote, and the new ordinance will take effect on April 1. Chair Chris Palmieri (D) said the changes will help the town to “be able to enforce the ordinance more effectively for residents in town.”
Republican councilor Michael Riccio was the only dissenting vote. “This is America. I get that people don’t want to live next to blight, but the ordinance gives the town the ability to go into people’s properties and make changes,” Riccio said “It’s starting to become invasive.”
There are two changes included in the ordinance. The first allows written reports of blight to be turned in without being signed by the reporter, although the language states, “Unsigned complaint forms will be reviewed to the extent possible.” Previously, all reports had to be signed.
The second change in question spoke to penalties and enforcement. The new language states that each violation of the ordinance shall be considered a separate municipal offence. Each day the violation continues will be considered a separate offense, and each separate offense will be punishable by a fine of the maximum amount allowed by Connecticut General Statutes.
As presented by Town Attorney Carolyn Futtner to the council, the maximum fine amount was written as $250. Councilor William Dziedzic questioned if that amount was correct.
“My recollection is that it always was $100. I don’t know if it’s been amended, or what the authority for the increase is,” Dziedzic said. “The reason I ask is because these statutes get challenged.”
Palmieri stated the fine amount of $250 was a number suggested by the police department who assisted with the crafting of the ordinance’s language.
After looking at the relevant General Statutes, Futtner reported to the council that the modification to the blight ordinance should state that the person may be fined not more than $100 as opposed to $250.
“I think that’s just a point of clarification because that adheres to the Connecticut General Statutes which limits that fine,” she said.
Six residents spoke to the council in support of the blight ordinance changes. They explained scenarios they have experienced as homeowners where blighted property nearby has been an issue.
Residents said it’s difficult to sell a house when the surrounding neighborhood is unkempt, even if the house they are trying to sell is in good, clean conditions. Blighted property alone can deter a potential buyer. Additionally, blight is unpleasant to see on a day-to-day basis, residents said.
Councilor Dawn Miceli discussed a letter she received from a resident, Marlene Camp, in support of the changes, specifically deleting the requirement to sign reports before submitting them.
Camp wrote to Miceli that she received retaliation from her neighbor for several years following her reporting the neighbor’s blighted property to the town.
“It’s not fair that one homeowner can have a negative impact on the entire neighborhood,” Camp wrote, urging councilors to “Keep all areas of our town beautiful.”
One resident, Jim Merriman, stated support for the changes, but brought the conversation forward suggesting that town employees such as the police or highway department workers who regularly drive around town keep an eye out for discarded debris or other general unsightly materials around town. He described a scenario where two mattresses were discarded on the side of the road and remained in place for several weeks.
“It seems to me that police, fire, other city people, could have seen that, made a quick report and got that picked up, but it took a written report to get them removed,” he said. “We can all work together on this.”
Once blight is reported to the Town Manager’s office, it is forwarded to the zoning enforcement officer. The officer then gives the owner or occupant of the blighted property a notice of violation with a specific date for correction and an outline of remedial action. If the person responsible does not correct the violation in the time prescribed, the officer then will forward the report to the police department for enforcement, in accordance with section 5-38 of the ordinance. Appeals may be made to the Town Manager within 15 days of notice of violation.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Cyr, email her at SCyr@SouthingtonObserver.com.