Rockingham discusses proposal for property maintenance ordinance

Wednesday November 21, 2012

BELLOWS FALLS -- Discussion of a possible exterior property maintenance ordinance took up the largest chunk of time at Tuesday's Rockingham Selectboard meeting, as board members and town residents alike voiced their opinions and concerns about government enforcement.

Certain members of the Selectboard and the public expressed support for an ordinance, which they said could improve Rockingham's image and increase safety and property values, while a couple of town officials worry it might go too far.

The issue was on the meeting's agenda, as Rockingham Health Officer/Zoning-Planning Administrator Ellen Howard was there for discussions.

Selectboard members Josh Hearne and Matthew Trieber say they understand there is a need for townwide rules requiring landowners to keep their property orderly and presentable, but they feel it would be easy for government to overstep its boundary when enforcing it.

An ordinance likely would provide guidelines for the exterior maintenance of private property and penalties for violations.

Hearne asked hypothetically if an individual's out-building, shed, hunting camp or other obscure structure would be held to the same standards.

"What if they have a driveway that's quarter-of-a-mile long and it doesn't affect me as a neighbor?" he asked.

Trieber said it is not uncommon in Vermont for someone to live in the woods with a tiny house and barn that do not have a negative impact on the values of their neighbors' property. He said people should not be punished because of how they choose to live if they are not affecting others.

Hearne also said there might be a good reason why some properties look shabby -- the absence of gainful employment has resulted in tight budgets and not all town residents can afford to pay for proper repairs.

Resident Rene Vondale told Selectboard members she is very worried about the town and said drafting an ordinance should be a priority.

Another resident, Jim McAuliffe, stood up and told the Selectboard he is a big proponent of an ordinance, as Rockingham desperately needs to better its appearance in order to keep people living there and encourage more to move in.

"I'm concerned about what's happening in our town. And as I look around, not just in this village, but in other aspects of the town, we have numerous, numerous properties that are for sale, that are being foreclosed on. And there's no buyers. Talk to real estate agents -- there's just no buyers," he said. "On the other hand we've invested significant amounts of money to renovate our town hall, renovate our schools, renovate our library and the infrastructures that we have here. But if we don't do something about the properties and make this town attractive, then we're going to die."

He admitted his statement might sound dramatic but said it sums up his sentiment.

"I think what I'd like to see, what we'd like to see, is that you guys share our concern," he said before addressing Hearne specifically. "I'm glad you're concerned about the little camp out in rural wherever with a garage falling down ... but I'm concern about the status of this town."

He said all Selectboard members are elected to care for the town. Chairman Tom MacPhee said every person on the board cares about Rockingham but some have differing opinions.

Howard said she will look at existing regulations and how other Vermont towns handle this sort of problem and report back to the Selectboard. She said she doesn't think anything can be done until after 2013's Town Meeting because of all the other material Rockingham officials are working on, including a FEMA buy-out of three houses flooded out during Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. That matter was addressed just prior to the discussion of the exterior property maintenance ordinance.

Howard told the Reformer the town will make offers to the three property owners to purchase the houses. She said 75 percent of the money Rockingham spends will be reimbursed by FEMA while the other 25 percent will come from a Community Development Block Grant.

In other business:

-- The Selectboard voted to support the submission of a watershed grant application to conduct an inventory of rare and endangered species and natural habitats in the Natural Resources Overlay District in Rockingham.

-- In his manager's report, Municipal Manager Tim Cullenen said live broadcasts of the public board meetings have not be available because FACTV is experiencing some technical difficulties. He said taped broadcasts are still being shown.

The Rockingham Selectboard meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 6, can be found at now.

"We're hoping that they will go live again some time in the month of December," Cullenen said. "It will be a little bit about their staffing and a little bit about their equipment."

Chairman MacPhee said it is important that meetings be broadcast live because the town is paying for it to be done.

Domenic Poli can be reached at, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.


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