On Friday during his Ask the First radio show on WGCH 1490, First selectman Peter Tesei took a call from Liz Eckert, a Greenwich resident who asked for a response to her letter and petition urging the Town take action on a blighted property at 46 mead Avenue where the chimney is separating from the house, utilities are cut off and the fencing is not secured.
“We’ll begin to work through a process to address it,” Tesei said, who was sympathetic. He said adding the nuisance existing ordinance dates back to the mid to late 1980s.
“It took a while to craft, but it’s a mild ordinance. It doesn’t give the Town a lot of teeth to effectuate major changes on properties. I’m sure the folks at the time wanted to make sure that property rights were protected,” he said.
Tesei said there are “a handful” of derelict properties out of the town’s 21,000 properties, and that he would recommend strengthening the existing ordinance as well as exploring what staff can do to address the Rupp property on Mead Ave.
“There is an underlying issue here with individual property owners circumstances,” he said. “It’s a good example of why the ordinance should be modified and changed.”
Ms. Eckert pointed out that the Mead Ave property is in a school zone. “Children are going by the structure that’s about to collapse,” she said adding that she’d had only become aware of the situation after a young child described to her having chased his dog who had run away and gone into the unoccupied house.
Tesei said he’d been told the property was fenced in.
“If you touch that metal fence it just moves away,” she said.
Indeed a trip to Mead Ave on Saturday confirmed how easily it would be to slip through gaps in the fence. Several panels of stockade fence were propped against poles.
A car that had been parked in the front yard of the property was towed away in the heavy rain on Thursday.
“One of the things we can do is secure the fence so that no one can enter it while we work through the legal processes to see how you effectuate having the house taken down,” Tesei said, adding that the situation at this particular house has been going on for decades.
“It is an eyesore and the first thing is to secure the fence,” Tesei said.
Eckert said she started her petition back in April urging the Town to act. She said most of the Town departments did not respond but the building department had, telling her there was a secure fence around the property.
“There is a fence, but it certainly is not secure.”
“This property is not just an eyesore. I believe in private property law. But this is a danger to our community and our children, and it’s across the street from an elementary school. The structure has come apart from the chimney. There is nothing holding it on. This was built in 1923 – there’s got to be lead paint coming out, asbestos coming out and probably oil leaking into the land because the lines have been cut at the back of the house.” – Liz Eckert
Tesei said the Town is doing what it can under existing provisions.
“There are two elements of the law. One is the nuisance ordinance and then there is the building code which is dictated by the state. The nuisance officers are now under zoning enforcement because often these issues involve an extra step. We consolidated the function under zoning enforcement so they can apply both the nuisance standard and building code standards. There are two different legal avenues and I think the nuisance avenue needs to be strengthened,” Tesei said.
He said in the past the Town has approached the owners. “And there have been instances where the town goes in and does some clean up and bills the owners,” he said.
“I’d like our people in the short term, in the next day or two, to tell me if in fact we can go in and do that and if we can go in and bulldoze it,” he said. “If that’s something we can do I recommend we do it.”
A second caller who did not identify himself suggested amending the ordinance to say that if the utilities are taken off a house that the the Town condemn it. “Obviously if the utilities are taken off then it’s uninhabitable.”
He said a house located at on Hobart Avenue, which is in Pemberwick, near the New York state line was “deplorable.”
“It’s boarded up. It’s got tarp on the roof. Obviously it’s in decay and it could be falling down. I think that should be addressed as well,” the caller said.
Mr. Tesei said the Hobart Ave property is held by a bank and is in foreclosure and that the Town is working on nine active cases of blighted properties.
He said the Town’s nuisance abatement staff are careful to respect property rights, but are in communication with property owners.
This story will be updated when more information becomes available.