Salisbury Looks To Clarify ‘Blight’ Definition

SALISBURY — Officials are looking to hammer down an exact definition for “blight” in the city of Salisbury to better marshal cases of rubbish, abandoned properties and other disturbances.
“As the town ages, blight is more of a concern and our code is somewhat antiquated,” said Susan Phillips, acting director of Neighborhood Services.
The issue has been growing steadily as more properties fall into disrepair.
“Within the past few years, we’re having more and more properties become abandoned,” she said.
But a recent Housing Board case did put a spotlight on the city’s lack of a blight definition. The project involved construction at the old mall. Excess materials were left on the property from that construction but the board ruled that they couldn’t be considered blight as Salisbury did not have that term properly defined.
“They said clearly we do not have a definition of blight and that hurt us tremendously in that case,” said Phillips.
While the case put the issue in contrast, Acting City Administrator Tom Stevenson stressed that Salisbury has needed a definition for blight on the books for years.
“In fact, this request for a definition for blight goes back at least two years … It’s not about the recent appeal,” he said.
The issue might seem as simple as flipping open a dictionary, but the council was wary of the underlying consequences.
“What we want to be careful with is that we don’t set something up that the definition is so broad that we wind up setting up an opportunity for the abuse of condemnation or eminent domain takings because that gets ugly real quick,” said councilmember Terry Cohen.
She further asked “at what point do you have to prove that there is a detriment or a risk to public safety” for something to be considered blight?
There was also the question of exceptions to the rule. An active construction site, for example, might leave materials out in a manner that could be classified as blight, but is only temporary and a necessary part of the construction process. However, giving all ongoing construction projects a blanket exception could easily be abused.
“My only concern would be even at an active construction site you could have some irresponsible conditions that would create blight. You wouldn’t want to give them a free pass to do that,” said City Attorney Mark Tilghman.
The council decided to ask the administration and legal team to hammer out a plan for review at the next work session later this month.