Darien’s approved Blight Ordinance slow to get off the ground
DARIEN — Two months have passed since the Representative Town Meeting passed its blight ordinance, but the Blight Review Board has still not met and a Blight Officer has yet to be appointed.
The delay is, at least in part, because the fifth and final member of the Blight Review Board has yet to be named, according to First Selectman Jayme Stevenson.
“We are awaiting the Representative Town Meeting to name their member to the Blight Review Board before the committee can convene to organize,” Stevenson said.
The other members of the Blight Review Board include Rob Richards, of the Board of Selectmen, Holly Hawes, of the Human Services Commission, Kevin Cunningham, of the Planning and Zoning Commission, and Jim Metzger, of the Commission on Aging.
RTM Moderator Seth Morton did not return two phone calls seeking comment as to when the appointment of a fifth member would appear on an RTM agenda.
A Blight Officer, who Stevenson’s job it is to appoint, has also yet to be named. The Blight Officer is responsible for reviewing all complaints issued to the town regarding properties.
According to Stevenson, the town is still working out a “personnel related issue,” and hasn’t formalized its selection, though she added it will likely be a staffed member of the Planning and Zoning Department.
In the meantime, Planning and Zoning has received 13 complaints according to Department Director Jeremy Ginsberg, many of which were expected.
“Some of the submitted complaints are quite detailed and helpful to our follow-up... others are more simple, with much less detail. Very few of these properties have come as surprises — most of them are properties which we anticipated would drive complaints,” Ginsberg said.
According to the ordinance, an instance of blight is defined as “residential real property, including any building or structure located thereon, which is and continues to be in a state of disrepair or is becoming dilapidated.”
A set of criteria — which lists defining characteristics of blight, including broken or boarded up windows, collapsing walls or roof, or significant fire or water damage — are listed in the ordinance. A property must be found to have at least two of the defining characteristics of blight to be considered blighted.
During the drafting of the ordinance, it was estimated by RTM members Frank Kemp, who was instrumental in the drafting and passage of the ordinance, that there were between 20 and 25 homes in town that matched the description of blight. Of those, Kemp estimated that roughly one-third are owned by clients of the Department of Human Services, one-third are owned by remote bank and mortgage companies, and the final third are owned by “rogue investors,” with plans, but insufficient means, to redevelop the property.
Until the Review Board convenes and a Blight Officer is appointed, steps toward resolving the complaints will have to wait.
“Whether they all rise to the level of "blight" as defined by the RTM remains to be seen,” Ginsberg said.