BERLIN — The boards will be coming down in Berlin or property owners will face serious fines.
The Berlin Mayor and Council decided Monday to propose changes to the town’s building codes, which will put a 30-day time limit on how long a property can remain boarded over. The limit is designed to still allow temporary boarding for repairs or emergency situations, such as last week’s Hurricane Irene.
“I think 30 days is sufficient,” said Planning and Zoning Director Chuck Ward.
However, going beyond the 30 days without special justification will likely carry a $100 fine for the first infraction and a $200 fine for each subsequent violation.
Ward stressed that the new changes are meant to target a very specific problem.
“It’s the properties that have been abandoned and are vacant and no longer being cared for,” he said.
Ward called long neglected buildings in the town a “blight.” What’s worse, he revealed, is that Berlin currently can’t do anything about the issue.
“This has been a problem for decades,” said Mayor Gee Williams.
Luckily, Ward did say that the vast majority of residents keep their properties well maintained. There are only a few, he remarked, who are seriously neglectful.
“There are a handful of these properties in town,” said Ward.
The original proposal made by Ward mentioned vacant homes as well as buildings that have been boarded up. While the two share a number of similarities, the council did want to make it clear that, as long as vacant properties are maintained by their owner, the town doesn’t have the right or the inclination to interfere. Once a property has become covered in boards, however, Berlin plans on stepping in.
“You don’t want houses boarded up forever,” said Councilwoman Paula Lynch.
“The purpose is to eliminate blight,” agreed Ward, who added that neglected properties “tend to fall apart.”
Williams also felt that the town needs to “zone in on boarded up buildings.” However, his biggest concern was with Berlin overreaching itself.
“We’re not looking to go around knocking on doors … we don’t want government to be more intrusive than it absolutely has to be,” he said.
It was because of that worry that he supported removing any mention of vacant buildings from the proposed changes.
“We’re after getting rid of boarded up buildings,” he reiterated.
As long as an owner kept his or her lawn and building up to snuff, which will become more difficult since Berlin is tightening its lawn care and housing codes in the next few weeks, Williams felt the town shouldn’t butt in.
“It’s really the owner’s prerogative to sit on that property an infinite amount of time as long as it is maintained,” he said.
Williams also pointed out that limiting changes to focus only on boarded buildings helps cut down on possible confusion in the language.
“The simpler we make it the better off we are,” he said.
Nothing is set in stone yet, however. The proposed 30-day limit still needs to be officially read into the record at next Monday’s council meeting. A public hearing will follow two weeks later before the changes become law.
“If the community supports this initiative, it will happen,” said Williams.
Because the 30-day limit will apply to buildings that have been boarded up for years, Williams urges concerned property owners to act now before the amendments go into effect. By getting a head start, he pointed out that a property owner could almost double that 30-day limit.