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Editorial: Stepping up to fight blight

Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder — but blight is a condition that most everyone can agree upon.

Where things get trickier is when you try to find the solution ... such cases often seem to pit the rights of the property owner against the interests of neighbors and the community at large.

It’s good that Greenfield Mayor William Martin wants to do offer the town the ability to act in the community’s behalf before a piece of property that’s seemingly abandoned begins a swift and serious spiral toward blight. As he said recently, “we want to protect property values and neighborhood integrity. We also want to protect town resources by avoiding the creating of nuisances, which then the town has to deal with at some point.”

And by nuisances, the mayor is thinking those building or properties that become a target for arson or a place that becomes an attractive place for illegal drug transactions or other activities where someone can get hurt ... or is used for some kind of dumping ground that creates an environmental hazard.

Understanding what blight looks like, then, is the easy part. Writing the right kind of ordinance that satisfies what Greenfield wants to do and keeps in mind the rights of property owners and also the perennial hesitation on the part of the Massachusetts courts to act quickly, to say nothing of decisively, when it comes to issues involving dilapidated buildings and blight, is the hard part.

The town must determine where the problem lies. Is it with the owner’s financial circumstances or is the disposition of the property tangled in the legal system?

Even with whatever legal wrangling the town may find itself in, there’s also the big question of money.

As At-large Councilor Patrick Devlin, chairman of the Economic Development Committee, pointed out, hefty fines may not be the answer.

“If people can’t afford to clean up their properties, how are they going to afford a $300-a-day fee?”

Chances are they aren’t.

Along with taking a more proactive approach, Greenfield should be seeking ways to help those property owners who want to do the right thing but can’t financially. Perhaps there are grants or programs available to help make improvements. The town might even create its own program to provide low-interest loans to help homeowners clean up or make necessary repairs.

Whatever the mayor and council come up with, it’s a start ... and that’s good for the town.

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