Council Considers Strength of Anti-Blight Language

Two councilmen urged the Ordinance Committee to limit the powers of the ordinance.


The Legislative Council Ordinance Committee met Wednesday with two councilmen who expressed their concern that a new anti-blight ordinance the committee is drafting might be more expansive than necessary.

Councilmen Paul Lundquist and George Ferguson aren’t members of the Ordinance Committee, but they participated in the committee’s discussion concerning what should and shouldn’t be considered as neighborhood blight and what enforcement actions town officials should take.

“Do we truly need this ordinance?” Lundquist asked, noting that the Borough requested a new enforcement measure but this legislation would apply to the entire town.

“I just wanted to make sure that we’re not leading to something that has unintended consequences,” said Lundquist, a Democrat who joked that he risked sounding like a Republican by advocating limited government powers.


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Committee Chairman Mary Ann Jacob said there have actually been neighborhood blight complaints by residents of all parts of Newtown, not just those from the Borough. The committee’s three main concerns were about safety, health and possible illegal activities.

Ferguson raised a question about the definition of what constitutes blight. The draft ordinance prohibits outside storage of unregistered vehicles and equipment that “are in an obvious state of disrepair and decay” and “no longer in a condition allowing them to be used for the purpose for which they were designed.”

But a neighbor of his has a rusty, old piece of farm equipment in his yard that serves as an attractive, rustic decoration. Ferguson said he would not call that blight, but another neighbor might.

Lunquist said some residents might keep an old, rusty, unregistered vehicle to do restoration work on it, but a zealous enforcement officer might take action against it.

The two councilmen and members of the committee weren’t concerned that any current town officials would take overzealous actions, but they discussed the need to write the ordinance carefully so it couldn’t be abused in the future by other personnel.

The ordinance gives the enforcement responsibility to an official designated by the Board of Selectmen to provide accountability and make sure it wouldn’t have to be rewritten if town departments were reorganized.

It also provides for fines of $100 a day plus attorney fees for violations. The enforcement officer would have the discretion to grant a six-month grace period to give the property owner more time to correct a blight violation, but not if the owner owes back taxes.

The ordinance also includes an appeals process. Historic buildings are not exempt from its regulations, but the ordinance does not override the authority of the Historic District Commission to halt an order the demolition of an historic building to address a blight condition.

Discussion on the ordinance will resume at the committee’s next meeting on Jan. 9. Council Chairman Jeffrey Capeci, who is a committee member, said he wants it completed and approved in time to go into effect next spring.

Susan Washburn November 19, 2012 at 11:50 AM
If this blight ordinance goes into effect, I will feel the need to leave Newtown. I am a REALTOR. I know many people who feel the same way. One of the reasons I moved here was the quaint plumbing supply store that USED to exist on Berkshire Road. I have had a Subaru in my driveway for 3 years and finally had the time to restore it. If I had been fined $100 a day for having it in my own yard, there would have never been another car for me to use and to pay taxes to Newtown on. This ordinance violates property rights and should never be enacted. There could be an ordinance that prevents people from amassing garbage in their yard as that could present a health and sanitary problem. There are laws already on the books that outlaw illegal activities. If the police need more proof of violations, just take some photos so that they have probable cause to call on and investigate suspected perpetrators. I have already been harassed for nefarious reasons by a person by his utilization of the newly enacted noise ordinance. These laws are used by people very often for no good reason and the police are helpless to stop the harassment by these people. They have to respond to every call about this, that, or the other ridiculous thing. This just adds to our costs for the police department. Why would we want to waste more of the police’s time having them respond to harassing ne’er do wells who use silly ordinances to ruin law abiding residents’ peaceful existences?
Sam Mihailoff November 19, 2012 at 12:01 PM
Sheer lunacy...perhaps some might consider the rumble of a Harley on a quiet road to be blight :-) All I know, per original 1923 deed, I cannot have a slaughterhouse or mental asylum, which might actually be a violation after reading of all the meddling possibilities in the works. The property is marked NO TRESPASSING, except for deer, birdies, turkeys (non-human variety), and of course Ms. Wrinkles, should she make another jail break.
Jacqui Ottomeyer Kaplan November 19, 2012 at 02:10 PM
I'm confused about whether this ordinance applies only to vehicles or any kind of property. Vehicles seem to be the contentious part of the language, but later on it talks about historic homes exemptions, so I'm a little unclear on what the actual ordinance is. Do we already have a blight ordinance of some kind? On the one hand, you'd think that realtors (like Susan above) would want to take care of blighted properties that might be affecting home values (I can think of one in particular on route 34 on my way into work...it was a nice little ranch home but now can barely be seen under the overgrowth...it sits between two nice, well-kept homes). On the other hand, concern about government intrusion and the possibility of selective enforcement is definitely valid.
Paul Alexander November 19, 2012 at 02:42 PM
You're right Sam...the problem is WHO DECIDES what is blight? How do you quantify that? You can’t. So you end up with a committee of "Do Gooders" running around town telling people how they may or may not use and enjoy their property. And even worse, you end up with a bunch of Newtown whiners, who can't afford to live in Stamford, Westport, or New Canaan, using this new People's Committee on Blight in a misguided attempt to turn what THEY view as "Blight" into their vision of how Newtown should be more like the Southern Fairfield County towns they can't afford to live in. They need to mind their own business. This is a BAD idea. And the fact that the LC is dwelling on such municipal minutiae when there are so many other big fish that need frying in newtown is truly insane.
Paul Alexander November 19, 2012 at 02:50 PM
"One of the reasons I moved here was the quaint plumbing supply store that USED to exist on Berkshire Road." Al Penovi would be a multiple convicted felon if Newtown were dumb enough to have this ordnance back in the day. Hell, he'd probably just shoot whoever tried to force him to get rid of his "blight". The Yuppies in town must cringe every time they drive past his old place.
Mr D. November 19, 2012 at 02:59 PM
We need some kind of ordinance though. There are 2 houses in the Bradley Rd area, for example, that have been vacant for at least 12 years, have 6 ft tall grass, downed trees accross their driveways, and decaying structures. That doesn't help with the property values in addition to being ugly and health and safety hazards...
Veritas vos liberabit November 19, 2012 at 03:08 PM
"bunch of Newtown whiners, who can't afford to live in Stamford, Westport, or New Canaan" Hey Rasmussen, how many folks do you personally know that fit this description?
Sam Mihailoff November 19, 2012 at 03:23 PM
suggestion...knock on the door, hand the owner $500,000...he'll move and be happy, you'll be happy with your new purchase and mow and trim to your heart's content, and we can file with the Councils a'plenty to change the name from Sandy Hook to "Stepford" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ONEYGU_7EqU
Susan Washburn November 20, 2012 at 09:02 PM
That house I believe you may be referring to may be in the maze of endlessly long and intricate foreclosure proceedings that banks are using seemingly to insure that they can record losses year after year. Or perhaps the town is delaying putting liens on it for unpaid back taxes. I don't think anyone lives there. I believe in the freedom that responsible single family home ownership confers and makes possible and I believe in helping to extend this right and privilege to as many people as possible. In my opinion, communities should not decide how individuals should decorate or 'keep' their properties, with the exception of historic districts' properties, and that control should be on a minimal level. What if I wanted to grow wildflowers in my back yard? What if I wanted to put a rusty sculpture in my back yard? Just think of the money and the waste of time cases that would be before the Court in Danbury and involve the time of the Town Blight Ordinator. These laws are a cost for us all ad infinitum. There are other ways to effect something if something is bothering you. Perhaps I should insult my neighbors by calling the town because their garbage that they had to bring down to the street the night before was knocked over by animals and they were at work all day and haven't had time to pick it up? Or should I just call them or knock on their door, or leave a note? Which one would be better? Talk to people. Communicate. Don't legislate.
Danny Jovanelly November 20, 2012 at 09:48 PM
Not everyone is a white collar worker that never gets his hands dirty. One persons old motor vehicle may be junk to you, your new imported s.u.v. may be junk to them. Who do you think cleaned up all the trees and branches from the last storm? Who got the electricity back on? It wasn't office workers sitting in chairs molded to the shapes of their bottoms who spend their days in heated and air conditioned offices; it was people who work long hours with their hands and fix things for money so that they can pay their taxes. "The right of the people to be secure in their persons' houses, papers, and effects, against UNREASONABLE searches and seizures, shall not be VIOLATED."
Sam Mihailoff November 20, 2012 at 09:50 PM
sorry Susan, wildflowers are no longer allowed here in Stepford. Please see Blight Ordinance: page 74...paragraph 7....sub-section F
wendy lee hewitt November 26, 2012 at 07:46 PM
Unfortunately, the people that really NEED to see this article and subsequent comments won't ever see it. They regard themselves as being 'above' public questioning and scrutiny. – Opening the door to individual (appointed officials), interpretations of such matters as ‘blight’, invites a whole host of evil and greed into the mix. – If you want to see how slippery the slope can be, watch this incredible and acclaimed documentary. (link below) If you, like me, thought that the laws currently in place will protect your property from actions like ‘Eminent Domain’ or ‘Legal Condemnation’… think again. The fact that the question heading this forum is even being posed to the community, tells me that the land-grabbers are watching to see who speaks up. Trust me and trust the thousands of people who live less than 100 miles of Newtown, for they had their community and PROPERTY stolen and sold out from under them, legally. Here’s the link to a film that will leave you speechless, incredulous and most likely, furious. http://battleforbrooklyn.com/post/31284809409/as-jay-z-opens-the-barclays-center-the
wendy lee hewitt November 26, 2012 at 07:59 PM
(This is addressed to the new elite of Newtown). I hate seeing what Newtown has become. Such arrogance, snobbery and greed...! So I guess it's ALL about your precious PROPERTY VALUES???? Please, go back where you came from! Oh, what's that you say?... You moved to Newtown from Stamford? You paid A LOT of money for your mansion?? Now you find that vacant houses with overgrown lawns repulse you?!? What should repulse you NYC-commuting, day-trading nouveau riche snobs is that Wall Street and banks are largely to blame for the horrid BLIGHT your tender eyes must bear witness to. How about doing some volunteer work, organize a group to look into these ‘blighted’ properties… see what YOU can do to HELP. Pool some of your expendable incomes to buy large plant containers & shrubs. Place them in front of the old Shell Station. Buy some paint. Have a ‘Beautification! Not Blight!’ Day in town. Paint the old building. Do something positive instead of clucking your tongues in disgust at the obvious tragedy of what once represented someone’s LIFE.
wendy lee hewitt November 26, 2012 at 08:04 PM
@ Mr. D : "Health and Safety hazards" ?? Really?? omg........ get a hobby Sir.


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