goleader.com - Union County, NJ Newspapers 97oct23


Hearing Before Committee Draws Both Positive, Mixed Reviews on Proposed Code

By PAUL J. PEYTON Specially Written for The Westfield Leader and The Times

A dozen or so residents and business owners turned out Tuesday night to make comments in regard to the proposed exterior property maintenance code during a special hearing before the Laws and Rules Committee of the Town Council.

The proposed ordinance, which has yet to be introduced by the council, would give officials the authority to address what is determined to be unsightly conditions existing on both unimproved and improved properties.

While a local realtor and a representative of the Westfield Area Chamber of Commerce endorsed the plan, several senior citizens expressed fears that the code will take away their rights as property owners.

Some of the most interesting input came from Joseph Biren, of a Tremont Avenue, a local engineer and member of the town’s Architectural Review Board. He stated that the maintenance code covers many of the same areas as the town and state building codes.

Mr. Biren explained that some of the language, though, was left out of the maintenance which might give residents the incorrect assumption that because they meet the property maintenance code, they are in accordance which the law when, in fact, they still have to follow the building codes which are more extensive.

He said some 20 years ago he served on a committee which looked into whether some sport of maintenance code was needed to address those properties in town which were not being maintained.

Mr. Biren noted that the committee decided a code was not needed after determining at the time that housing stock not being maintained accounted for just 2 percent of the town.

He recommended that a similar community committee be created to evaluate whether such a code is needed now.

Local Realtor Warren Rorden, of Jefferson Avenue, said he and local Realtors support the code "with caution." He noted that in one case a home of Cacciola Place appears to have been in a state of disrepair for years. Another property on Dudley Avenue also has not been maintained.

He said the enforcement officer, yet to be determined, must have the time and knowledge to make decisions with regard to enforcing the code.

At the start of the meeting First Ward Councilman Norman N. Greco, a member of the committee, provided committee members with a copy of the code which includes his own revisions.

Councilman Greco added the word exterior throughout the ordinance to insure the code does not give authority for the enforcement officer to enter buildings or homes.

He also put 10 inches and 36 inches on the height of plants as the rule before citations could be written on a possible violation of the proposed code.

He emphasized that while he is opposed to some areas of the proposed code he is not opposed maintenance code in itself.

W. Jubb Corbet, a member of the Westfield Board of Health and the Chamber of Commerce, announced that he, along with the two organizations he was representing, are in favor of the code.

He said consideration needs to be given on what will happen to tenants who might be "caught in the middle" between a landlord and the town over a violation in the code.

In regard to the sealing of trash containers, he said the requirement for fencing should be based on the height of the containers rather than an arbitrary number of six feet, included in the present code.

In terms of a reference to lighting which states it should not shine directly on dwellings nearby, Mr. Corbet said, this statement should be specifically for residences.

In the business zone, he noted that lighting from businesses actually increase safety at surrounding establishments.

He questioned the section of the code which will allow five people in a neighborhood to sign a petition with regard to a possible maintenance code violation.

Mr. Corbet said he does not see the need for him to get four people to join him on a petition before he can report a violation such as that of the town fire code.

Another supporter of the code, Ralph Steinhart, of East Dudley Avenue, said the committee should provide a definition of what it means by the reference to aesthetics in sections of the code. He said the committee is "asking a lot" of the code’s enforcement officer to have this person to define aesthetics in the code.

He suggested the council itself become the enforcement officer for the code.

Saul Drittel, of Cowperthwaite Place, said the biggest fear of residents is the penalty of a $1,000 fine and or 90 days in jail. This penalty could be imposed by the Westfield Municipal Court Judge if a person is convicted after failing to bring a property up to the standards required by the code.

Overall, though, he said most of the town supports the ordinance.

Phyllis Coumbe, of Maple Street, who has spoken before the full council a number of times against the code over the past month, continued to express her concerns Tuesday night.

She said she is against letting the town "invade" her life. She has expressed concerns over how the code might impact on at least one of her neighbors who is unable to maintain her property.

Cicilia Smullen, a 42-year resident of Harrison Avenue, called the exterior maintenance code unnecessary.

She told the committee she is against any proposal which "further erodes our personal rights."

Alan De Rose, of Branson Court, a supporter of the code, said the strength of a community is based upon seeing that residential properties maintain their values on the real estate market.

He said the way the ordinance is written at present will prevent abuses of the maintenance code.

Mr. De Rose noted that current town ordinances already regulate how a home can be built. He said keeping the property properly maintained is just the next level.

In speaking to area realtors, he noted that shoppers of new home are looking instead at Summit, Chatham and Short hills and passing on Westfield.

Mr. De Rose noted that property values in those other communities are up 15 percent the past few years while values in Westfield rose just 2 percent.

"I believe this ordinance will hold property values and continue to hold their values (in Westfield)," he said.

Walter Sawyer, of Stirling Place, said he believes the code should be revised to address those landlords who have serious code violations on residential properties in town.

He suggested giving a property owner 90 days to correct a serious violation, noting the fine could be imposed if the person fail to correct the situation in the period of time.

Mr. Sawyer noted that the rear of one home was taken in March and, to the date, still has no insulation in the rear.

"In some areas of Westfield it is not ‘colonial Westfield,’" he told the committee, noting that he considers some structures in town "tenements" which are run by "slum lords" who collect rent but refuse to maintain their properties.

He also suggested changing the fine to $250 rather than the $1,000 proposed in the code.

Denise Dagostaro, of Central Avenue, said she finds the code "instrusive," noting that people who have either recently lost a job or had a marriage desolved could face penalties because they haven’t maintained their properties.

During the council’s public meeting which followed the hearing, representatives came before the council to explain their proposals for the state’s Community Development Block Grant program.

Former Councilman Kenneth L. MacRitchie proposed that the town apply for funds to do landscaping and other improvements along a strip of land in the 700 block of Grandview Avenue, which is owned by town.

He suggested the town apply for monies for new playground equipment for toddlers at the former Lincoln School building which is currently leased to the Union County Education Services Commission. Mr. MacRitchie also suggested that monies be sought for new swing sets at the Jefferson School.

He recommended that Mayor Thomas C. Jardim include among his 1998 appointments someone to represent Westfield on issues of multi-jurisdictional housing.

Ernestine Howell, of Plainfield, the Director of the Westfield Community Center, said the center intends to file a grant application for $20,580. Seventy-five percent of the money would pay the salary of the juvenile program coordinator at the center.

A request for $2,500 would be requested as part of a matching grant program. The money would be used to provide recreational and cultural programs for children between the ages of 11 and 17.

Ezella Johnson, Director of Westfield Neighborhood Council, presented her request for block grant funds in writing.

The Council is seeking finds: to rebuild an outside staircase, for tieing in drain pipes to the town’s drainage system, for replacement of outside front outside wall at the Center, replacement of outside playground equipment and the installation of a security system.

Town Engineer Kenneth B. Marsh said the town will be applying for a grant in the amount of $65,000 for the milling and repaving of Myrtle Avenue and Ripley Place.

Copyright 1997
TheWestfield Leader
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Revised: October 25, 1997
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