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Fight against blight

Greenfield committee to take time writing vacant property ordinance

An abandoned house sits on Hope Street, near Washington Street in Greenfield.
(Recorder/Paul Franz)

An abandoned house sits on Hope Street, near Washington Street in Greenfield. (Recorder/Paul Franz)

GREENFIELD — A Town Council committee has decided it will take some time to write a nuisance and vacant property ordinance that everyone can live with.

The Economic Development Committee said this week that it will continue to study a proposed ordinance that would require all property owners to maintain their properties, at least to the point where they don’t abandon them and let them slip into disrepair, while it reviews other towns’ ordinances.

Mayor William Martin said the Vacant Property and Nuisance Ordinance is meant to protect the health, safety and welfare of residents of Greenfield, while preventing blight, but some believe it goes too far and could be misinterpreted.

“What you don’t want to do is take away people’s liberties,” said local carpenter and contractor Gary Seldon of Traver Court. “There are building codes and health codes and ordinances that can already be used as tools. I think this ordinance is incredibly broad.”

Seldon said he worries that a neighbor of someone storing construction materials on their porch for more than a few days could call and complain, according to the draft ordinance.

“People buy a property and should have the right to do what they want on and to it,” said Seldon.

Martin, on the other hand, said he wants to protect property values and neighborhood integrity.

“We also want to protect town resources by avoiding the creation of nuisances, which then the town has to deal with at some point,” said Martin.

The mayor said that inadequately maintained residential and commercial properties need to be kept safe and sanitary. He said they are a risk for fire, unlawful entry or other public health and safety hazards.

At-large Council Patrick Devlin, who heads up the EDC, said current town rules “have no teeth” and that is why it needs a new ordinance.

“I don’t think this ordinance is meant to punish people who leave a box of nails on their porch,” said Devlin. “The town’s health and building inspectors aren’t going to ride around all day looking for that; and, it has to be a reasonable complaint for the town to take action.”

Devlin said the ordinance would protect everyone’s liberties, including the neighbor who has to live next to an eyesore and whose property is devalued because of it.

“The building inspector is reasonable and has said he gives people ample opportunity to take care of issues,” said Devlin.

Enforcement is an issue, committee members said, because there aren’t enough inspectors in town to do the job if there were constant complaints.

Devlin said there are currently about two dozen vacant or nuisance properties in town and not much to regulate them.

Devlin, At-large Councilor Mark Maloni and Precinct 4 Councilor Steven Ronhave all said they would like to see an ordinance that balances property owners’ rights with everyone else’s rights. Precinct 5 Councilor David Singer and At-large Councilor Dalton Athey could not attend this week’s meeting.

Devlin, Maloni and Ronhave also voiced concerns about a proposed $300-a-day fine that violators would receive from the town.

They said if people had the ability to pay $300 a day in fines, they most likely wouldn’t allow their properties to become run-down.

The committee plans to continue its discussion and possibly rewrite the draft ordinance during upcoming meetings.

According to the draft ordinance, a nuisance includes, but is not limited to, buildings destroyed by fire, buildings deemed uninhabitable, dilapidated properties, dangerous or unsafe structures or personal property, overgrown vegetation that could harbor rats and vermin, pools of stagnant water, junk in yards, unregistered vehicles in yards, and rubbish or building materials being stored in yards.

Property owners who abandon or leave a property vacant would need to maintain that property and any building on it, according to the draft. They would also have to comply with fire codes, secure properties, maintain them in a manner that kept them clean and free of trash or debris, repair or replace broken windows and doors, and comply with any other town regulations.

Eventually, a final version of the ordinance will go to the full council for a vote. The council could accept, reject or amend it at that point.

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