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No action taken on ‘blight’ law changes

by Tom Chillemi

A proposed change in the way Middlesex County would deal with unsafe structures and blighted property went nowhere on Tuesday night.

After a public hearing, the Middlesex Board of Supervisors took no action, which seemed to please much of the audience.

Several in attendance spoke against the ordinance change, indicating that the ordinance would affect their property rights.

Others, who favored the change, indicated that removing dilapidated structures would improve property values.

Middlesex County already has the ability to declare a structure blighted and to require it be repaired or torn down. However, the process involves bringing the issue to court. The current ordinance requires that a property owner be “served” a subpoena that would require them to appear in court. The subpoena must be handed to them in person, which is especially difficult with absentee property owners who may live in another state. “You can’t subpoena a post office box,” said Mike Soberick, attorney for the Middlesex Board of Supervisors.

Currently, it is up to the county building official to notify the landowner of an unsafe structure, bring the matter to the board of supervisors, and continue on to court.

The proposed change discussed Tuesday night would allow the county to notify the blighted property owner at their last known address. After being notified of specific repairs or improvements that are needed to be made to the unsafe structure, the property owner would have 30 days to respond.

If the owner did not respond, all costs incurred by the county to repair the property would be charged to the owner, and if unpaid it would constitute a property lien, enforceable the same as a tax lien.

The board of supervisors would determine if a property is blighted.

Currently, a judge makes that determination.

Under the current unsafe structure law, the county might not be able to recover enforcement costs, said planning director Wally Horton in his presentation.

Property rights
Some speakers appeared to fear that under the new law, the county would require them to paint their houses or put on a new roof.

This is not the intent of the ordinance, said county administrator Matt Walker, noting that the proposed ordinance comes from the state code and much of it is “verbatim.”

Horton showed photos of houses that had been gutted by fire that are still standing open.

Rebecca Melton of Deltaville said blighted property is “another form of litter.”

Jerry Dunford of Remlik echoed the sentiments of opponents when he said the law would infringe on property owners’ rights.

Horton’s power point presentation said, “The intent of the new ordinance is to address vacant unsafe structures only and not dispossess anyone of a home.”

Supervisor Wayne Jessie motioned that the ordinance “not be approved,” and supervisor Jack Miller seconded the motion.

However, Soberick said there needed to be a more definite motion.

Supervisor Beth Hurd motioned that the ordinance be tabled, but no one seconded the motion. Supervisor Pete Mansfield was absent.

The board took no other action.

A second public hearing on “unsafe structures” also concluded with the board taking no action. 

posted 08.09.2013

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