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97sep04 westfield nj

Town Council Committee Unveils Property Maintenance Code

Specially Written for The Westfield Leader

The Laws and Rules Committee of the Town Council Tuesday night released a draft of a property maintenance code which, according to a summary of the proposed ordinance, would address "unsightly conditions existing on both improved and unimproved properties such as structural deterioration, dilapidation of buildings, infestation, and the uncontrolled growth of vegetation and the accumulation of garbage and rubbish."

In the planning since June, the code would, among other things, require the fencing in of excavation sites, ban accumulations of rubbish or garbage on private property, and require that sidewalks be clear of accumulations of snow, ice, mud rubbish and other hazardous waste conditions. Grass growth would have to be kept to a foot or less Premises would have to be maintained free of weeds or plant growth, "which are excessively overgrown as compared to the character and condition of surrounding properties."

Fourth Ward Councilman Lawrence A. Goldman, Chairman of the Laws and Rules Committee, said the committee decided that it did not want to deal with the interiors of structures, although this may have to be addressed in terms of apartment structures.

The proposed code also includes general standards for exteriors of structures and vacant storefronts. In terms of the former, the code would set standards on repair and maintenance of structures, foundations, exterior walls and fences, roofs, signs, marquees, awnings, stairs and porches. The ordinance would also include requirements designed to prevent rats from entering structures.

In terms of vacant store fronts, building owners would be required to obscure the vacant interior of the premises through the installation of a drop-screen or window display.

After reviewing the code, a number of concerns were addressed by both council members and officials regarding such areas as enforcement of the code, penalties for violations and the extent as to what was included in the document.

Mr. Gottko said the council might want to include a building department official along with the health code and fire safety officials. He said, though, he was concerned that the health department has contract obligations with four other communities which should be considered before adding another responsibility to that department.

After listening to the concerns of council members, Town Administrator Edward A. Gottko suggested that perhaps the council might need to hire someone on a part-time basis to serve as the enforcement official. Councilman Goldman quickly responded that this may be "jumping the gun."

The administrator asked the council for more time to review the proposal with the three officials being considered for enforcement to get their feedback.

He said once the ordinance is passed, he expects the new law will "open the flood gates on complaints" from people regarding violations of the code.

Second Ward Councilman Matthew P. Albano, a member of the Laws and Rules Committee, said the code would not change the job descriptions of officials such as the health officer, but would merely give them another tool to go after property owners who refuse to maintain their buildings or homes.

First Ward Councilman Norman N. Greco said the way the proposed ordinance is written, "75 percent of residents would be in violation" of the code.

"I think your numbers are really out of proportion," responded Third Ward Councilman Neil F. Sullivan, Jr., a member of the committee.

Mr. Greco also said he would be opposed to any maintenance code which would be " proactive."

Fourth Ward Councilman Donnell Carr later spoke of his concerns regarding the penalties listed in the code, which include a maximum $1,000 fine and/or imprisonment of up to 90 days.

He said he could not envision any violation which would be so serious that a 90-day jail sentence would have to be imposed. He also said he was concerned that those persons in town who can not afford to make repairs would be negatively impacted by the code.

Mayor Thomas C. Jardim noted that currently, a town code regarding the covering of trash and storage containers, is "routinely ignored" in town. He said the code in general is a "reactive" type of ordinance which will stop such things as open garbage. He said if the town does not have the resources in terms of enforcement personnel he is afraid the new code will just "sit on the books."

Committee members noted that the ordinance was aimed mostly at the exterior of buildings. The code, however, does allow an enforcement officer to seek a court order to gain entry to a property in order to conduct an inspection when the owner refuses such entry. All enforcement personnel would be required to show the proper credentials before conducting an inspection.

The official would also have the authority to condemn a premises if he deems it "unsafe for human occupancy or use." The official also would be able to order the owner to raze and remove the structure.

Copyright 1997
TheWestfield Leader
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Revised: September 08, 1997.