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Norwalk blight officer says he’s making a difference

NORWALK, Conn. – The tally of Norwalk property owners being pressured under the city’s new blight ordinance has grown to 31, according to Norwalk Chief Building Official Bill Ireland, Norwalk’s blight ordinance enforcement officer. Five are under citation, with more to be added by the end of the week, he said.

The number of complaints of blighted properties is “growing quickly” under the ordinance, Ireland said Friday, speculating that his stack of recent complaints included 10 properties he hadn’t yet investigated. Surprisingly, some people thank him for the kick in the pants. Many properties have improved since the new blight ordinance went into effect Jan. 1, he said.

Those under citation are the property owners who did not reply to a warning letter, he said. That includes the dilapidated 61 Osbourne Ave. house shown above, which features a fallen-in roof, now easily visible from the street.

The rumor that someone is living in the house appears to be false, he said.

“I have driven by – there’s no heat, the gas meters are off – people have said that but some other people from the health department said ‘No, the house is empty,’” he said.

The owners took the certified letter of warning, he said, but there has been no reply. They had 45 days to respond. Since that has passed, the $100 a day fines are accruing in a lien on the property.

It might be an unsafe structure, he said. “It may be determined that the house should be torn down. We have done that with other properties,” he said. If so, that would also be a lien.

26 Range Road, Rowayton
There’s a buyer for this Rowayton property, Bill Ireland said.

Another house with a lien on it is a dilapidated house in the woods on Range Road in Rowayton. That situation will end soon, as it is being sold, he said.

He got a phone call asking if the new owners would be subject to the fine, he said. The answer was no, not for a reasonable amount of time, he said.

“I’ll give them time to put their ducks in the row,” he said. “(I said), ‘If I see nothing happening you’ll get the warning letter.’”

It’s been owned by a Shelton resident who inherited it, he said. It sat there for years, until the blight ordinance came into effect. The expected owner is talking to Planning and Zoning about plans for the property, he said.

Another eyesore that’s under citation is on Richards Avenue, its boarded up windows easily visible in a prominent location. Its owner lives in Darien but hasn’t responded to the letters, he said.

That’s now under the auspices of the Corporation Counsel office, he said.

But around the corner is a success story. The tarp is off the roof of the empty house at 181 Fillow St. and the yard has been cleaned up.

The owners – two brothers and a sister – called right away and are systematically working on it, he said. The deck in the back will be repaired next, he said.

The owner of a house on the corner of Hillside Street and Elmwood Avenue called right away and said his mother had had a stroke, he said.

“He said they’re going to put it on the market,” Ireland said. “I guess there are just legal aspects on how they can have control. He said there’s one interested buyer in the neighborhood.”

The blighted properties are all over the city, he said – five in Rowayton, two in Silvermine and others in East Norwalk and Cranbury. But some complaints don’t result in letters, as sometimes neighbors think decorations represent blight.

Imagine if your neighbor still had Christmas decorations out.

The complaints built slowly, as it isn’t easy to see blight with snow covering everything, he said. He said he suspects that blight enforcement might have a natural seasonal rhythm to it.

Norwalk Chief Building Official Bill Ireland.
Norwalk Chief Building Official Bill Ireland.

The reaction to enforcement letters was surprising he said.

“A lot of people get it, it’s the shot in the arm they need to comply. One guy thanked me,” he said.

That “guy” said he would get a trash bin and get it done before his knee surgery. Ireland drove by and saw the trash bin, he said.

“I thought I would be getting a lot of flak but I think people take an honest look at what they have as far as it being shown to them. … I haven’t had many conflicts yet,” he said.

Those who would complain are probably the people who haven’t responded, he said.

He doesn’t want to hurt people but finds it very satisfying to see blighted properties improve in neighborhoods where most people are working hard to keep their homes up, he said.

“We hope for the compliance. We don’t want to get into citations and end up in court. We do provide agencies that would help if you’re elderly,” he said.

Money from the fines will pay for the enforcement efforts, and an overage can be used to clean up blight, he said.

“Statutorily the money cannot go into the general fund. It has to be used for blight only,” he said. That means if someone isn’t complying Norwalk can do the work, once the fund is built, and slap a lien on the property for that. It could be as simple as cleaning up a yard or something more elaborate, he said.

The building inspector is doing the enforcement work on top of the work he already had. He has a flex schedule that now sometimes includes doing some blight enforcement on his Mondays off.

He’s getting a stipend and earning some time off in the future, he said.

“It is full time as far as taking complaints but it’s not full time as far as going out and investigating,” he said.

Comments

8 responses to “Norwalk blight officer says he’s making a difference”

  1. Maria Alarcon

    That house on Osborne avenue has been like that for YEARS!
    Hundreds of people drive by it every day….nobody ever complained until now? And if they did, as they must have surely done, did the city just ignore it because they didn’t have to enforce any laws? What if kids went in there and the roof collapsed? I drive by that house at least once a week, and have always wondered why nothing was done about it. I guess now, because of the new law, the city can potentially “take” it and sell the land…explains the sudden interest. I wonder what the city was thinking when they walked up to the front porch a couple years ago and left those blue recycle bins….did they think someone lived there?
    It’s a shame, because it has the shell of a once beautiful house, but it is most likely too far gone now to be saved.

  2. Bill

    Glad to hear someone can do a small task in local government without needing to hire a full-time worker.

  3. Mike Mushak

    Thank you Mr. Ireland for all your hard work and dedication. Next, we need to apply the same approach to commercial properties. I do not believe there is a lack of enabling legislation at the state level as one city official mentioned recently. I would need to see more proof than an opinion from our former Corporation Counsel that he based that comment on, who did not offer any evidence statewide that this was not happening elsewhere. If other cities can do it, why can’t we?
    .
    l also do not see why existing ordinances cannot be enforced at the three “gateway” blighted properties with multiple health, building, and trash violations, that greet thousands of visitors and residents every day at Exit 16 (the old HoJo’s trash covered site with the tattered sign), Exit 14 (the old trash covered site with the graffiti covered mafia blocks and tattered old sign next to Swanke Franks), and the boarded up office building with collapsing stairways next to Avalon on Belden. Cleaning up these three eyesores would go far in improving our image at major gateways into the city, and improve the perception that we are a city that cares and is in control of blight.

  4. anonymous

    @Mushak agreed. The burnt Wall Street building is a gateway eyesore and should be included in any list of commercial blight.

  5. Dennis DiManis

    Regarding the dump on Wall Street: all citizens are equal under the law, but some are more equal than others.

  6. Diane C2

    Denis Dimanis – regarding the dump created by Hal Alvord on Cedar Street….I guess the city itself is immune from blight citations.

  7. Audrey Cozzartin

    Hi All,
    I’ve seen the same blighted properties for all 11 years I have lived in Norwalk, with nothing done except further decrepitude. I am from Detroit and when I go back periodically to visit relatives, I see the blight there which is a sad commentary on America. Norwalk needs to get tough, not only to stand up against property blight, but to DO SOMETHING about the embarrassing condition of our streets–every day when I hit another huge pot hole here in Norwalk, I say to myself, “I can’t believe I’m living a Third World Nation.”

  8. EastNorwalkChick

    Audrey, driving throughout East Norwalk it is like a Jeep ad, it’s “an off road experience”….
    .
    It’s not only blight that makes a city look seedy, it is lack of enforcement of zoning laws. And I’m not talking about the ones that are petty, like the flower pot removal in the driveway debacle. These laws are there for a reason, why aren’t we enforcing them?
    .
    The number of commercial vehicles parked on residential streets and lawns rally brings down a street/neighborhood. From what I understand the law to state, you are allowed to have ONE commercial vehicle parked on a property and you cannot conduct your business from a residentially zoned neighborhood.
    .
    Here are a few streets that they can look at to give them a jump start:
    .
    Melrose, four trucks in drive, 2 on the street, along with various other equipment in the yard. The best was when they removed the plows off the vehicles and just left them on the street this past winter. Residents of street have completely given up after years of complaining.
    .
    Gregory Blvd., two different homes, Vegas Landscaping on West side of street, he keeps at least three trucks on the property. Ties up traffic on Gregory when he is shifting them around. Even has one of his employees out on the street stopping traffic so that he can do this.
    .
    There’s an oil company repair truck that I swear never moves on East side of street, it blocks the view of anyone trying to get out onto Gregory from Loraina; Has been there for the last 4 yrs., nothing, not even a ticket.
    .
    Emerson St., one house down from corner of Melrose, a contractor/landscaper that has at least five trucks, plus other equipment all packed in on a tiny lot. Must be fun to watch them get these trucks out in the morning.
    .
    All this in a five block area. This makes us business owners who play by the rules, who pay rent for a commercially zoned property, who follow all the zoning/DEP laws a little ticked off. Makes you wonder if they do this, do they pay any property taxes on their equipment? What else are they cheating the system on?
    .
    I can bet if my husband set up his boat refurbishing business in our backyard or parked his customers boats on the street something would be done….or maybe not.
    .
    Sorry about the rant, but this is one thing that gets to me….

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