NL draws line with new blight or­di­nance aimed at va­cant build­ings

The Day - - FRONT PAGE - By GREG SMITH Day Staff Writer

New Lon­don — The city is tough­en­ing up its blight or­di­nance again with a new pro­vi­sion aimed at im­prov­ing the look of the down­town busi­ness dis­trict and prod­ding the own­ers of nui­sance prop­er­ties to make changes.

“Store­front stan­dards for com­mer­cial prop­er­ties” reg­u­late the look of empty va­cant prop­er­ties and build­ings un­der ren­o­va­tion and al­low the city to im­pose fines of up to $250 a day for vi­o­la­tions. The or­di­nance, one of sev­eral mea­sures taken by the city to ad­dress blight over the past few years, seeks to rid the down­town of va­cant store­fronts whose out­ward ap­pear­ance con­sists of things like con­struc­tion equip­ment, ply­wood-cov­ered win­dows and sloppy win­dow dress­ings.

Felix Reyes, the di­rec­tor of the Of­fice of De­vel­op­ment and Plan­ning, said the per­cep­tion of down­town has suf­fered over the years be­cause of a few own­ers whose build­ings are neg­a­tively im­pact­ing their neigh­bors. Reyes said he has been meet­ing with mem­bers of the City Cen­ter Dis­trict’s blight com­mit­tee over the past sev­eral months for in­put on ways to ad­dress the is­sue.

“You can’t just put up con­struc­tion pa­per and blue tape and walk away for sev­eral months,” Reyes said. “This or­di­nance es­tab­lishes a stan­dard we des­per­ately need in the city. With this or­di­nance, they can no longer get away with do­ing the bare min­i­mum.”

The new or­di­nance, ap­proved by the City Coun­cil on Mon­day, man­dates that when a va­cant store­front can be seen from the street, the owner needs to keep the in­te­rior “neat and clean and free of all de­bris, tools, build­ing ma­te­ri­als and/or con­struc­tion ac­tiv­ity.” The or­di­nance lists ma­te­ri­als not per­mit­ted in the win­dows of com­mer­cial prop­er­ties: con­struc­tion pa­per, painters’ can­vas, trash bags, tarps, hand-writ­ten signs, real es­tate signs not hung on any glass or im­prop­erly cen­tered and out-of-sea­son dis­plays.

The or­di­nance de­tails that graph­ics on store­front win­dows must be uni­form, signs con­sis­tent and win­dows com­pletely blocked with paint.

‘A sad sit­u­a­tion’

Reyes said the root of the prob­lem has been that some own­ers have got­ten away with “do­ing just enough” to

sat­isfy ex­ist­ing rules but the prop­er­ties re­main blighted.

One ex­am­ple, he said, is the 130 Bank St. build­ing owned by Bill Cor­nish. Cor­nish was blocked by a court or­der from de­mol­ish­ing the build­ing, which now sits with boarded up win­dows, with a blue tarp and a “for sale” sign in the front win­dow.

Cor­nish painted the build­ing af­ter be­ing cited for peel­ing by the blight of­fi­cer this sum­mer. Reyes met with Cor­nish on Fri­day to ex­plain how the new or­di­nance might im­pact his build­ings. Reyes said he would con­tinue to work with Cor­nish and other build­ing own­ers to ex­plain the new rules for ev­ery­body’s ben­e­fit. Reyes said own­ers in vi­o­la­tion of the new or­di­nance would have time to cor­rect vi­o­la­tions be­fore be­ing fined.

Ric Waterhouse, who runs Waterhouse Sa­lon and owns his 136 Bank St. build­ing, ap­plauded the city’s ef­forts. His build­ing is ad­ja­cent to Cor­nish’s and said Cor­nish has left it ex­posed to the el­e­ments as if he wants the build­ing to de­te­ri­o­rate.

Mean­while, Waterhouse’s own prop­erty as­sess­ment jumped by 30 per­cent in the lat­est re­val­u­a­tion.

“It’s a sad sit­u­a­tion when the least you can ex­pect is for some­one to put win­dows in their build­ing. You can’t just put up ply­wood and leave it there for years on end. I think it’s gen­eral com­mon sense things,” Waterhouse said.

He said the city’s new or­di­nance “helps pro­tect our in­vest­ments and the hard work we’ve put in.”

“I think they’re try­ing and headed in the right di­rec­tion,” Waterhouse said of city of­fi­cials.

Cor­nish said he had not yet read the or­di­nance but planned to com­ply with what the city asked.

“If they say the boarded-up win­dows have to go, I’ll take the boards down,” Cor­nish said. “As long as ev­ery­body else does the same. There are a lot of boarded-up win­dows on Bank Street.”

Reyes said he and the blight of­fi­cer have made mul­ti­ple at­tempts to ask busi­ness own­ers to clean up their prop­er­ties, with mixed re­sults.

In De­cem­ber, the coun­cil passed an amend­ment to the prop­erty main­te­nance code that ad­dresses boarded-up win­dows and doors on va­cant struc­tures. It man­dates that all cov­er­ings must be painted to match the build­ings and can re­main no longer than 180 days.

Pre­vi­ous re­vi­sions to the blight or­di­nance, part of the city’s prop­erty main­te­nance code, al­low the city to take a civil route or send re­peat vi­o­la­tors to the state for crim­i­nal ci­ta­tions and pos­si­ble fines of up to $250 a day.

Clean­ing up the city

Barry Nei­s­tat, the co-owner of Muddy Wa­ters at 42 Bank St., said he was en­cour­aged by the new or­di­nance, con­sid­er­ing that from his store­front he has a view of a stretch of Bank Street build­ings, in­clud­ing the for­mer Capi­tol The­ater, with miss­ing win­dows and ply­wood on dis­play.

“I’m a prop­erty owner and we do what­ever we have to keep our build­ings in shape,” Nei­s­tat said. “It’s not fair to them to be main­tain­ing theirs while their neigh­bors do not. Why should we suf­fer?”

Frank McLaugh­lin, a down­town build­ing owner and mem­ber of the City Cen­ter Dis­trict’s blight com­mit­tee, said the dis­trict has worked with the blight of­fi­cer and sub­mit­ted ar­eas of con­cern for in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“It’s still not per­fect but we’re pleased with the progress the city is mak­ing. We feel they are a part­ner in get­ting the down­town cleaned up,” McLaugh­lin said.

Most coun­cilors ap­peared op­ti­mistic that the new or­di­nance could have some im­pact. Coun­cilor Martin Olsen said the or­di­nance looked to be “an at­tempt to change a long­stand­ing cul­ture in our com­mu­nity. I ap­plaud you.” Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Don Ven­ditto said the or­di­nance ad­dresses what he called the cheap­en­ing of down­town.

Coun­cil mem­ber John Satti, who voted against the mea­sure, voiced con­cern that the new rules could be an ob­sta­cle for some. He also said the city needs to man­age its own prop­er­ties, such as the boarded-up for­mer Thames River Apart­ments on Crys­tal Av­enue.

“I think we’re driv­ing busi­nesses out of town,” Satti said.

Reyes said, “The city needs to be an ex­am­ple and is cur­rently work­ing on clean­ing up its own blight and prop­erty main­te­nance vi­o­la­tions.”

“If they say the boarded-up win­dows have to go, I’ll take the boards down. As long as ev­ery­body else does the same. There are a lot of boarded-up win­dows on Bank Street.” BILL COR­NISH

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