The draft of the revised Property Maintenance ordinance, which is intended to deal with “blight” in Derry’s downtown and other areas, came under criticism at the Nov. 18 Town Council meeting, as two business owners and two private citizens pressed for more enforcement tools to deal with abandoned buildings and other eyesores.
Councilor Tom Cardon is chairman of the Property Maintenance Ordinance Committee, which recently completed a draft of the ordinance.
Steve Trefethen, a Realtor and owner of several downtown businesses, brought his “wish list” from the merchants on West Broadway. “We would like to see the sidewalks painted in spring or summer rather than fall,” he said, pointing out that the sidewalks would look fresh and bright for Derryfest and other warm-weather events.
Trefethen also complimented Public Works on last year’s snow removal efforts. “You did a good job last year, and I hope we continue to see the snow removed in a timely fashion,” he told the Council.
Derek Moody, a town resident and owner of Drae, a martini bar, said he opened in March of 2014 but began prepping his site in January. “There was a mountain of snow,” he said. He said he tried to shovel it away from his front door, but that upset his neighbors because there was no place to shovel it.
Moody called the Property Maintenance ordinance a “great first step,” but pressed the town to get more “teeth” into the ordinance. There are a lot of vacant buildings downtown that are literally falling apart, he said. “I can see their fronts disintegrating day by day,” Moody said. He blamed the problem on absentee landlords and told the Council, “There have to be repercussions to people who own property and don’t live in Derry.
“They need to be accountable,” Moody said. He suggested 90 days to fix a problem, then a fine, and then the fine doubling if the work isn’t done by a certain date.
Kelly Martin, a local homeowner, agreed. “We need to make the fine something a wealthy out-of-state landlord can feel,” she said.
Another resident, Dendra Abdinoor, referred to a sociological phenomenon called the “broken window theory.” If property isn’t maintained, she said, it invites uses such as illegal drugs and other criminal activity.
“It is a snowball effect,” Abdinoor said.
The current penalty for failure to comply with the International Property Maintenance Code as spelled out in Chapter 30 of the Town Code is, “ Any person who shall violate a provision of this code or shall fail to comply with any of the requirements thereof or who shall erect, construct, alter or repair a building or structure in violation of an approved plan or direction of the Building Inspector, or of a permit or certificate issued under the provisions of this code shall be guilty of a violation, punishable by a fine of not more than $275. Each day that the violation continues shall be deemed a separate offense.”
The section on “Unlawful Continuance” states that, “Any person who shall continue any work in or about the building after having been served with a stop order, except such work as he is directed to perform to remove a violation or unsafe condition, shall be liable to a fine of not less than $100 or not more than $275 per day.”
There is no specific penalty for unkempt property or “blight.”
In the draft ordinance, the framers have added the provision for a Property Maintenance Committee consisting of the Code Enforcement Officer, Director of Public Works, Fire and Police chiefs, Planning Director, Tax Collector, any other town official deemed appropriate, and three members of the public. The committee is an advisory committee similar to the Highway Safety Committee and would review complaints brought to it and discuss specific remedies.
The section on “Securing Vacant Buildings” says that the town has the “authority to order building owners to fully comply or otherwise take whatever measures are necessary in order to bring said building into full compliance and attach a lien on the value of the parcel to recover all costs.” Securing the buildings includes disconnecting utilities, removing all flammables and combustibles, securing windows and entrances by boarding them up, and erecting barriers.
Cardon declined to comment on the issue.