Darien has appointed its first-ever Blight Review Board, the body responsible for overseeing cases of serious deterioration at local homes. The Representative Town Meeting approved the town’s blight ordinance in October 2016 and the mandate went into effect at the start of the year.
In the ordinance, a blighted premises is described as a building that is in a state of disrepair or becoming dilapidated. While several town committees reviewed the ordinance, officials have described the measure as a tool to settle local property disputes, many of which are longstanding.
Before the ordinance takes effect, officials said the town lacked proper recourse to compel homeowners to repair blighted properties. About 15 complaints have been filed with the town’s office of Planning & Zoning, most of which were known to the town prior to the ordinance taking effect. In some cases blight is the result of a neglected property owned by a non-resident, while in others the homeowner may be physically or financially unable to complete the property.
All reported cases of blight are to be reviewed by the blight review officer, who has yet to be appointed. The blight officer oversees is able to issue a warning to the homeowners responsible for the properties in question, and if the situation is still left unresolved, the case can then be escalated to the Blight Review Board.
The board would have up to six months to issue a violation against the property, and a citation could be put in place after another 30 days. Homeowners could be subject to a fine of up to $100 a day from the town if they do not settle the blight citation. In situations where the homeowner is unable to repair their property due to age, low-income, or disability, the case would be forwarded onto the Department of Human Services for consideration and support.
The Blight Review Board is comprised of five members from the Board of Selectmen, Representative Town Meeting, Planning & Zoning Commission, Human Services Commission and Commission on Aging. On Monday the Board of Selectmen appointed formally Rob Richards, Elisabeth Bacon, Kevin Cunningham, Holly Hawes and James Metzger to those roles, representing their respective bodies. Hawes of the Human Services Commission will serve as the board’s chairman.
Meetings of the Blight Review Board will be open to the public, as will blight complaints filed with the town. As the information is public, media outlets would be free to identify blighted homes.
Selectman Richards expressed concerns about the public nature of the blight cases but was advised by town counsel that the complaints would still fall under the Freedom of Information Act, which promotes the open sharing of government information.
First Selectman Jayme Stevenson said a blight review officer will be appointed in the coming weeks, and the Blight Review Board is currently planning to meet on the third Wednesday of each month, starting on May 17.