NORWALK, Conn. — Your next-door neighbor routinely parks two big dump trucks and a front loader in his driveway.
Or maybe there are three separate dish antennas atop the single-family home across the street, with seven cars and vans scattered at odd angles on the front lawn.
Or perhaps a jeep having neither license plates nor wheels is perpetually perched on blocks alongside the house on the corner.
The first thing you need to know is that Norwalk’s Zoning violation correction process is 100 percent “complaint-driven.” This means that Zoning Inspectors Aline Rochefort and John Hayducky will respond promptly to complaints, but don’t proactively seek out violations. Hayducky told Nancy on Norwalk “If I were to look for issues, it would take me six months just to get off of East Avenue. If I looked carefully at every property under a microscope, I could find something.”
Therefore, you need to file a complaint. Here’s a link to the Zoning Complaint Form, which may be submitted online or in person at the Planning and Zoning office in room 223 at City Hall, 125 East Ave.
Your complaint, along with all subsequent details, will be a matter of public record, available to the offending property owner as well as any other interested parties.
After the inspector visits the property and confirms the violation’s existence, the property owner is told, via a notice sent by certified mail, to appear at the next monthly Zoning Citation Hearing. Upon responding to the letter either by receipt signature or by phoning the Zoning department, the property owner is expected to appear at the hearing. Lack of response to the notice in time for the monthly hearing causes rescheduling to the next month’s hearing along with another certified mailing. Continued lack of response generates an in-person delivery by a constable who obtains the property owner’s signature. Property owners refusing service of the notice are potentially subject to fines, as are property owners who sign for the notice but fail to appear.
It takes from 30 to 60 days for the complaint to be added to the monthly Zoning Citation Hearing agenda.
The complainant need not attend the hearing, and the cited property owner can send legal counsel rather than personally appear. Held in a conference room at City Hall, the hearing is conducted by two officials: Deputy Inspector Hayducky details each complaint on the agenda, noting any progress that has been made to correct the violation, and sometimes offering advice to the property owner or their representative. Hearing Officer Gary Oberst, Esq. presides like a judge, giving floor time to all parties, then making determinations.
Many cases are continued to the next month’s hearing date, owing either to a property owner’s laxness, or to the extended time needed to correct a violation. Laxness can be expected to generate a fine (State law gives the Hearing Officer discretion to fine a property owner up to $150 per day. In recent years, property owners have paid as much as $40,000). On the other hand, leniency may be applied to a property owner beset with procedural hurdles in striving to correct a violation. Some corrections can take up to year, owing to complex construction requirements and multiple local and state review processes. Hayducky notes that while the fines are punitive by nature, they are mainly intended to encourage timely correction. He says “We want compliance. Most violators regard the accruing fines as a wake-up call to resolve the issue.”
No complainants were present at the Jan. 16 hearing, in which illegal contractor yards accounted for five of the 13 agenda items. Other items included an illegal second kitchen in a single-family home, a busy mechanic’s shop violating a Norwalk law prohibiting outdoor auto repair work, and an unlicensed taco truck operator who defended himself by alluding to his five consecutive annual “Connecticut’s Best Tacos” awards. In a brief moment of levity, Oberst continued the taco vendor’s case to February, while assuring him “It’s not that your tacos aren’t good.”