Unaffiliated first selectman candidate cited for blight in Darien
After months of back and forth between Darien’s Blight Committee and unaffiliated first selectman candidate Chris Noe, the committee unanimously voted to issue a formal citation on his blight situation.
Noe is running for first selectman for the sixth time. He has previously run as an “ultra-conservative” but is currently running unaffiliated — though he was unsuccessfully nominated for the same office as a prospective candidate at the town’s Democratic caucus in July.
At the Oct. 16 Blight Review Board meeting, the board discussed that Noe had placed covers over the problem areas and said he felt this made him in compliance with the blight ordinance. The blight officer told the board he confirmed that the blight issues still continue. The board unanimously voted to issue Noe a citation delivered by the sheriff, saying he was past the period in which he could complete the work required to remediate the blight.
Noe told The Darien Times via email that the Blight Review Board’s “claims are unfounded.”
“Claims of dirt piles, construction debris, sticks have never existed. They exist at another location across from Andrews Drive. I believe their photos may have been miss filed. In the complaint it says “see photos,” photos have never been attached. I received a formal letter in February stating- screen, cover and remove. I did all three. I was given a deadline and had it done 10 days prior. I notified the blight officer for his inspection and waited for his response. He works two days a week, three hours on blight,” Noe said.
“My entire property in under construction to remediate their issues and others more time sensitive. I now have ZBA approval to repair the fire damage to the back of the house dating back to 2006,” Noe said.
At a meeting in February a frustrated Noe appeared before the Blight Review Board to address their concerns with his Old King’s Highway Property. At the meeting, Noe blamed the problems with his house on the town’s lack of approving a requested permit for work there.
Members of the board asked Noe to provide dates for requested permits and the rejections. Noe described the denial of his ability to replace a porch, which he said resulted in his girlfriend at the time injuring her ankle. In anger, he said he tore the porch down himself and was issued a stop work order. After several years of being unable to get permits, according to Noe, he said he gave up. Later, he said a fire caused more damage — some of which he was unable to fix.
The board was able to determine the last application for a permit was nearly 20 years ago. When asked if the concerns were fair, Noe agreed he had “stuff on the property” but said it was always under construction. Noe was also asked if he still had the “motorcycle hanging down.”
Noe replied that he had taken the motorcycle off the side of his house for a year, but had put it back up after returning to “this blight ordinance” — upside down, “adorned with Christmas lights.”
At that February meeting, members pointed out that the first notice Noe had received from the Blight Review Board was March 2018. Items raised included fire damage, construction debris, inoperable vehicles, excessive debris, and falling trees.
Noe pointed out that he hadn’t appeared before the board before February because he hadn’t been invited, and said all the information at the meeting is coded — i.e. properties during Blight Review Board meetings are discussed by an assigned case number, not an address or owner. Board members said that was for discretion but Noe said he disagreed. Noe also said he would try to cooperate with the remediation if “you guys can help me get a building permit,” to which board members responded that it wasn’t their job to do so.
Noe also said in February that if he felt backed into a corner, he might satisfy the remediation but not in the way the town or his neighbors would be happy with.
In March, Noe returned to the board to further discuss his blight remediation. He continued to address his difficulties in obtaining permits from the town to fix his fire-damaged porch. Board members told him that there were other problems that could be fixed without obtaining permits. Items such as persistent trash, construction debris, and inoperable vehicles were mentioned. Noe argued that he uses the boats and parts because he has a “boat hobby.”
The board suggested Noe set up a meeting with the blight officer so the specific items considered blight could be identified. The board also reinforced there were five specific items that were described as blight, and only one required seeking a permit or a fee payment.
In April, Noe forwarded an email he sent to the town outlining the steps he had taken to remedy his blight problems, including covering the burnt part of the porch, 30 trees planted for screening, covering unused boats, covering a van with no tires, covering boat engines and parts, a dead tree was cut down, and many loads taken to the dump.
“Backhoe and dump truck are stashed out of sight. Reroofing will continue. There are some rocks in a pile for retaining wall repair,” he said.
Noe told The Darien Times he gave the town 10 days to inspect after that email — and did not get a response.
According to the ordinance, which took effect as of Jan. 1, 2017, 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 that there were between 20 and 25 homes in town that matched the description of blight. Read more about the ordinance here.
The purpose of the blight board, as defined by the town, is to define, regulate, prohibit and abate housing blight in order to protect, preserve, and promote public health, safety and welfare; and to maintain and preserve the beauty of neighborhoods and the general appearance of the Town. It is made up of five members, and Robert Sollitto is the Blight Prevention Officer.
Noe said his property flooded with sewage in October 2018 and “substantial remediation has been required delaying repairs to the house.”
“Tall trees were dying and one large maple with a rotten truck leaning toward my neighbors house was the last one to be removed before reseeding the back yard. There is one remaining tree about to fall on my garage that is at the top of my to-do list,” he said.
Noe also said he has been collecting storage containers and has begun moving everything out of his house. He also said he has been too busy with his own home to maintain the storm channel out of Stony Brook that causes homes in the area to flood.
“Now that I’m being fined I’m sorry I won’t have time for that any time soon,” he said.
“The blight law says to remove or cover items, cars etc. My case, boats. Stored boats have been covered, boats I use often remain uncovered and one I’m building for my nonprofit plastic clean up group is uncovered as well. I did sell an old car and junked a classic boat I realized I’d never have time to restore,” Noe said.
“My house will be raised two feet this fall. The garage will follow. The fire damage rebuilt, new roof, fresh paint. I expect it done by spring at which time the containers can go away,” Noe said.
When asked how his interactions with the Blight Review Board have affected his sixth bid for first selectman, Noe said he should be campaigning along with incumbent First Selectman Jayme Stevenson at the dump, “but I’m too busy for that.”
Once the citation is issued to Noe, he has 30 days for two options, according to the board. He can dispute the board’s and the blight officer’s findings, or he can pay his fine. He no longer has the option to remedy the blight issues to the officer’s satisfaction to resolve the matter.
The Darien Times has asked the town for the amount Noe owes in fines but has not heard back.
“If they send me a letter of what they want done, I can comply. They moved to fines instead,” Noe said.
“There is no resolution the way they have it set up,” he said.