Darien approves blight ordinance to take effect Jan. 1, 2017
DARIEN — Is a blight ordinance a government overreach or is it a tool necessary to deal with derelict properties?
These were among the questions the Representative Town Meeting weighed on Monday night during a meeting at which the town’s legislative body voted to approve the ordinance, which seeks to provide the town with an effective means to define and address blight.
Though the ordinance eventually passed easily, many members of the RTM expressed their concern especially about the ambiguity of language, which some contended could leave a larger number of homeowners vulnerable than the ordinance intends.
“The devil is in the details, and I think that words matter. I am concerned about what I figure I see are ambiguous, very subjective, phrases,” said Jim Cameron, of District Four. Cameron added that he hes gotten more letters, emails and phone calls on the blight ordinance than he has on any other issue in his 12 years serving on the RTM.
Specifically, Cameron pointed to a list of criteria written by Frank Kemp and the Town Government Structure and Administration Committee, of which Kemp is the chairman, that uses phrases such as ‘seriously damaged,’ ‘significant fire or water damage,’ ‘persistent or excessive amounts of garbage,’ ‘unsightly or excessive amounts of debris,’ ‘overgrown brush,’ and ‘significantly covered,’ to qualify blight.
Town Counsel Wayne Fox, however, commented on the impracticality of the alternative.
“It this body were to attempt to define each term it would be impossible in a practical sense,” Fox said.
Others, too, worried that the “blue-ribbon panel,” as it is called in the ordinance, that would hear cases of blight would have no choice but to be subjective if the terms were not clearly quantified, as in a check box method.
“I would like to suggest that that’s exactly what we would not want. We want people on this, like the committee, who can use their judgment to make good decisions,” Clara Satori, of District Two, said.
Discussion of the ordinance was continued around the idea that, in order to give the benefit of the doubt to homeowners, a unanimous vote be required from the blue-ribbon panel - comprised of town officials - before being referred to the state who could then charge a fee of up to $100 a day on unresolved blighted properties and eventually place a lien on the home. An amendment to the ordinance was proposed and subsequently denied.
Despite several points of contentions expressed by RTM members during the course of the meeting, the ordinance received an equal share of support, with supporters calling it a valuable tool for the town to sufficiently address instances of blight, some of which, as resident Carol Smith pointed out, have persisted for more than a decade.
The ordinance was generally applauded, too, for its language protecting vulnerable homeowners, specifically the elderly, mentally handicapped and those going through financial hardships by partnering with the Department of Human Services to seek solutions outside of the ordinance.
“I believe this ordinance has a great deal of compassion built into it, which I’m very appreciate of,” First Selectman Jayme Stevenson said.
The ordinance will go into effect Jan. 1, 2017.