Town­ship tar­gets derelict prop­erty

Kingston Whig-Standard - - NEWS - WAYNE LOWRIE

The Town­ship of Leeds and the Thousand Is­lands wants to put more teeth in its by­laws to force scofflaw own­ers of derelict prop­erty to clean up their act.

Town­ship coun­cil is con­sid­er­ing ideas such as in­creas­ing fines and en­force­ment staff and clar­i­fy­ing the rules so that the mu­nic­i­pal­ity can crack down on the worst of­fend­ers.

Now, prop­erty stan­dards en­force­ment is com­plaint-driven, mean­ing that the by­law of­fi­cers act only if a neigh­bour or some­body else ac­tu­ally calls town­ship of­fices with a com­plaint. And res­i­dents are some­times re­luc­tant to make a com­plaint for fear of re­tal­i­a­tion once their neigh­bours find out, coun­cil was told.

En­force­ment is now a slow process, the penal­ties are mi­nor, and some neigh­bours say they have com­plained about prop­er­ties for years with­out re­sults. The landown­ers are given weeks to clean up their prop­er­ties, and they can avoid penal­ties by do­ing a small cleanup be­fore the dead­line and then start again pil­ing junk and garbage.

Against this back­drop, town­ship coun­cil re­cently de­bated re­vis­ing the town­ship’s prop­erty stan­dards to crack down on un­sightly, un­kept and un­healthy prop­erty.

As sev­eral coun­cil­lors said, it’s a com­pli­cated mat­ter. The mu­nic­i­pal­ity has to find a mid­dle ground be­tween the lax, any­thing-goes at­ti­tude of the town­ship for the past 20 years and the im­age of jack-booted in­spec­tors trolling in search of of­fend­ers to ap­ply ar­bi­trary fines. Or, in the words of Coun. Gerry Last, “one man’s junk is an­other man’s trea­sure.”

Plan­ner Elaine Mal­lory said the word­ing in the new by­law should be as pre­cise as pos­si­ble be­cause the idea of ac­cept­able prop­erty stan­dards can be very sub­jec­tive.

“For ex­am­ple, toys, wood or tools piled on a lawn, front porch or in a car­port may be an eye­sore to some, but to oth­ers are a nor­mal part of en­joy­ment of one’s prop­erty,” she writes in a re­port to coun­cil. “Hav­ing nat­u­ral­ized va­cant lands, which would in­clude long grasses, have en­vi­ron­men­tal ad­van­tages, but to oth­ers are un­sightly, par­tic­u­larly in vil­lages.”

Coun. Liz Huff said there are a hand­ful of chronic of­fend­ers in the town­ship and there is no ques­tion that they vi­o­late prop­erty stan­dards.

“What I’m re­ally both­ered by is peo­ple who are liv­ing in ter­ri­ble con­di­tions where there are prob­a­bly no toi­lets in some of the build­ings,” said Huff, adding she is con­cerned for the peo­ple liv­ing there as well as the neigh­bours who must put up with the smell.

“There are peo­ple with junk in their yard to the point that you can’t see any part of the yard.”

Huff said the town­ship needs a law that it can use as a ham­mer to bring the five or six worst of­fend­ers into line.

She also wanted the by­law to be flex­i­ble enough to ap­ply dif­fer­ent stan­dards to ru­ral and agri­cul­tural prop­er­ties from the rules ap­plied in the town­ship’s ham­lets. A farm might have some aban­doned farm ma­chin­ery in a field, she said. In one of the ham­lets, that same farm ma­chin­ery in a front yard would be an eye­sore.

Coun. Vicki Leakey also said the town­ship should steer clear of black-and-white rules. An old barn with a col­lapsed roof is part of the ru­ral land­scape, she said.

Mal­lory said the by­law could be writ­ten to ap­ply dif­fer­ent stan­dards de­pend­ing on zon­ing and lo­ca­tion.

Coun. John Paul Jack­son said health and safety, fire and en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns should be para­mount in by­law en­force­ment. While a tum­ble­down barn might not be a prob­lem, a de­cay­ing garage in a vil­lage might be­come an un­safe place where kids hang out to smoke, or could be over­run by ro­dents, he said.

An aban­doned car in a field might look rus­tic from afar, but if it is leak­ing gaso­line, oil and trans­mis­sion fluid, it be­comes an en­vi­ron­men­tal hazard and should be re­moved, he said.

Mal­lory rec­om­mended that coun­cil con­sider set­ting up a prop­erty stan­dards com­mit­tee that would hear ap­peals from res­i­dents who dis­agree with the by­law of­fi­cer’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the rules.

Coun­cil mem­bers will de­bate the prop­erty by­laws again at their com­mit­tee of the whole meet­ing in Novem­ber.

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