Colonie officials have scheduled a public hearing for Thursday, Oct. 25, on measures to give town law more teeth when it comes to keeping on top of unsafe or unsightly properties.
Chapter 62 of town law, as it is called, deals with unsafe buildings, equipment and sites. The law was tabled after other amendments were made to new zoning and codes put in place at the beginning of this year. Officials have since come back to the law in hopes of dealing with 43 commercial and residential properties in the town that have been identified by a new committee charged with cleaning the properties up.
Lately the town has toughened up on property owners who have not worked on bringing their properties up to snuff. While several properties have been in the cross hairs for years, including the corner of Albany Shaker and Wolf roads, others remain dormant and in various states of disrepair.
You kind of hope that the property owners would take some pride in their properties they own and for the sake of the community clean them up or sell them, said Supervisor Mary Brizzell, who sits on the six-member Vacant, Abandoned Fire Damaged Buildings Committee.
Since the committee formed 10 months ago, six sites have been taken off the list, Brizzell said. They were sold, refurbished or demolished.
However, some sites remain in limbo. They are either tied up in county foreclosure proceedings or the town has been unable to get in contact with owners.
As the law stands now, building department inspectors use best building practices to deem a property unsafe. If the property owner was reluctant to bring the property back up to code, he or she was issued an appearance ticket in Town Court, said Mike Rosch, building department director. Even then there isn’t a lot of incentive for the owners to clean the properties up, he said.
A judge could fine them a few hundred dollars, but only if the defendant pleaded guilty or was found guilty in trail court. Many take the fines or do piecemeal work to remedy the situation.
`The whole basis of this (amended law) is that we are trying to put more teeth in our local law. As the law is now, if we have a building in disrepair and the owner is resistant, we can issue an appearance ticket; we can have a local law the building department can use to have these properties cleaned up in a more efficient manner,` said Rosch.
Instead of using best building practices, inspectors will now have clear definitions and scenarios that dictate whether a building is unsafe. Inspectors can still issue tickets to appear in Town Court but now will be able to call upon the property owners to appear before the town board in a public hearing.
Town Attorney Arnis Zilgme, who was to have a draft of the law prepared by Wednesday, Oct. 3, said the goal of the law is to not drag these people into an embarrassing public debate. But property owners could be, and that could prove to be an effective tool, said town planners.
Having the new definitions, for example, that set how far a wall can be out of plumb, allows inspectors the ability to keep knocking on doors. There could be the potential for new citations, such as having refrigerators that cannot be opened from the inside on abandoned properties, that could warrant a citation under town law, he said.
The strategy to clean these properties up is still going to be based primarily in keeping contact with property owners, said Denise Sheehan, planning and economic development department director. But planners and building inspectors need to give themselves as many ins on some of the properties as possible.
`We are trying to give ourselves the ability to, after providing due process and if the building is deemed unsafe, to allow the town to take legal action to have the building removed,` Sheehan said.