Rockingham planners propose nuisance ordinance

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BELLOWS FALLS — A new townwide ordinance that would crack down on "nuisance" buildings has been proposed by the Rockingham Planning Commission.

Bonnie North, chairwoman of the planning board, was joined by fellow board member Myles Mickle in presenting the draft ordinance to the Rockingham Select Board last week. The Bellows Falls village trustees are set to hear the same presentation on Tuesday evening.

The ordinance would crack down on everything from peeling and unpainted buildings to unmowed lawns as well as unsafe, dangerous and blighted buildings.

North and Mickle said the town and its villages are plagued by nuisance buildings and too often the cost of cleaning them up falls on the taxpayer.

Rockingham Town Manager Wendy Harrison said Monday the ordinance was designed to help

address the frustration townspeople have with unsafe buildings in their midst.

"I think it's a good draft. I think it's designed to address a variety of issues and strike a balance between effectiveness and fairness. It's not intended to be a beautification ordinance, as you would experience in a homeowners' association. But appearance of a building is one of many conditions that can trigger actions," she said.

"We need to balance what happens on individual properties and the impact on neighbors," she said.

Harrison said the ordinance would allow the town to impose a daily fine on the owner of the ChemCo building, which has been a problem building for Bellows Falls village. But she said she didn't know what the real impact would be for the other major problem building the village has been working on — the old YMCA building. In that case, she said, the owner has limited resources.

In the past couple of years, the town has had to spend about $180,000 cleaning up two fire-damaged buildings in Bellows Falls, said Chuck Wise, the town's zoning administrator and health officer.

North said a three-person subcommittee of the planning board started work on the draft ordinance in November and met weekly to try and tackle the stubborn problem.

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Under the proposed ordinance, which will undergo a review process including townwide hearings, "safety officers" of the town would inspect unsafe buildings, or buildings that were the source of complaints.

North, Mickle and Bellows Falls Village President Deborah Wright worked on the draft ordinance together, North said. They consulted with Gary Fox, the town's development director, as well as Shaun McGinnis, the Bellows Falls fire chief, and Bellows Falls Police Officer Josh Paulette. Others consulted were Village Attorney Raymond Massucco and Town Attorney Stephen Ankuda, as well as a licensed structural engineer and the town listers.

North said the town received complaints from residents that the town and villages lacked the regulatory power to address many of the issues plaguing the town, including repeated drug offenses in the town's neighborhoods. Bellows Falls currently has an unsafe building ordinance, which it adopted in 1990.

In addition to drug traffic, the ordinance would tackle "infrequent trash removal," "outside storage of junk," as well as fire safety violations.

North said the unpainted building provision was included because unpainted buildings had an economic impact on neighboring properties. While North acknowledged that people had trouble affording to have their houses painted, she said she hoped the town would work to come up with the funds to help residents in need.

North said she was on a fixed income and couldn't afford to paint her house, but that luckily her son paid for the job.

Harrison said the town hoped to have those resources organized before the ordinance was adopted. She said she expected the town would discuss the ordinance during the summer, and adopt it in the fall.

North and Mickle said the town's goal in having such an ordinance was "voluntary compliance."

Under the ordinance, an inspection would be triggered by a "legitimate concern," and the town's so-called safety officers would make every effort possible to secure voluntary compliance.

If that fails, a written notice would be given, with the owner given seven to 30 days to respond with a correction or a plan for correction.

The ordinance calls for daily fines of between $25 to $100, and between $15 and $50 for unkempt weeds and grass.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com or 802 254-2311, ext. 154.


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