A newly created committee designed to help residents who may be struggling to maintain their properties met met for the first time last week to elect officers and discuss its work.
The Blight Review Board will help homeowners with problems such as overgrown yards, unraked leaves or deteriorating houses so they can correct those conditions rather than get punished for them, according to Chief Building Official Brian Platz, who had advocated for creation of the appointed body.
First Selectman Kevin Moynihan presided over the meeting, held Thursday at Town Hall. During the 45-minute meeting, Brock Saxe was unanimously elected chairman and Paul Tully secretary.
Saxe is a commerical real estate professional with Halstead and Tombrock Corporation, while Tully is a real estate and construction professional. The other Board members are Ian Hobbs of Hobbs Inc., Claire Tiscornia of the New Canaan Planning and Zoning Commission and Bethany Zaro of the New Canaan Department of Human Services.
Appointed May 21 by the Board of Selectmen, the Board had been proposed last fall as a way to review specific blight situations on a case-by-case basis.
“It’s nobody’s intent to create additional hardships for residents who don’t have the means to abate the conditions of blight,” Platz said. “If they do not have the financial means, how could we possibly help them by imposing a fine?”
New Canaan is following in the footsteps of Darien, which adopted its own Blight Review Board three years ago and has had a very “successful” experience with it, Moynihan said.
Platz is not a member of the Board but can serve as an “enforcement agent” who advises as a municipal official during meetings, he said. Moynihan said the Board likely would not meet very often, though when it did, it would handle sensitive matters.
Under the Town Code, blight is defined as: “Any condition or combination of conditions in public view upon any residential premises that tends to devalue real estate, or that is a negative influence upon the neighborhood or upon any neighbor’s use and enjoyment of his or her own property, due to, characterized by, or reflective of neglect, decay, deterioration, disrepair, rotting, overgrowth, infestation, dilapidation, or failure to maintain.”
Though there is room for interpretation within the definition, of the 12 to 15 blight complaints Platz receives a year, only three to four of them are “judgment calls,” he said.
In cases such as these, the Blight Review Board would be asked to vote as to whether or not it’s an example of blight.
The other responsibility of the Board is to decide what actions to take when there are clear cases of blight, but the residents do not have the means to abate the conditions, Platz said. The Board talked about involving local volunteer organizations, such as the Service League of Boys, St. Aloysius Confirmation Class and Boy Scouts in projects to help residents in need.
“We have an opportunity to engage groups in the community to assist with a situation where someone doesn’t have the means to correct the conditions of blight,” Saxe said.
Platz stressed the importance of helping residents understand that the committee is not designed to track down conditions of blight, but to help residents abate the conditions of blight where needed.
“We’re not here to impose fines on people—we’re here to help them as much as we possibly can,” he said. “Nobody wins with a $100 per day fine.”