Letter to Town Council re: Property Maintenance Ordinance

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Here is the letter which was sent to the Town Council regarding the Property Maintenance Ordinance, which has not yet been approved.  The letter supports the idea of keeping the ordinance to apply to all properties and not just abandoned or vacant properties.  Reminder:  this topic will be discussed at the Town Council meeting on April 25th.  All are encouraged to attend to show support for the ordinance.

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TO: Town Councilors of the Town of Barnstable                                                 April 16, 2013

Dear Town Councilors:

As members of the Voices of the Village Task Force, we have been following closely the proceedings of the Town Council in reviewing its Agenda Item #2013-032, a new Amendment to the Code of Barnstable entitled “Chapter 54, Building and Property Maintenance.”  Our immediate concern, following deliberations at the Council Workshop on the subject, is that the proposed ordinance may be substantively reduced to apply only to abandoned and vacant housing, thereby eliminating most all of the original amendment’s general application to maintenance standards for all owner-occupied and rental properties. This timid retreat into an ordinance containing only the lowest common denominator of maintenance standards would be a serious mistake in our view. We urge the Town Council to continue with the original intent and spirit of the proposed amendment.

Those several hundred of our citizens who attended the previous Voices of the Village meetings very much supported the concept of improving the Town Code with a robust amendment to apply to all residential properties in the Town. The clear objective all along has been to support home-owner property values in our communities as a whole with proper protections from neglected properties, otherwise known as ‘blighted properties.”  The original amendment resulted from over 18 months work with full consultation with the Town’s officials in Legal Affairs, Regulatory Affairs, the Health Department, the Police Department and Zoning.  The Town’s own property inspectors indicated to us that passage of such “standards would help us to do our job better” in as much as the present Town Code currently is lamentably  silent on the issue of property  maintenance standards.

Those members of the Voices of the Village Task Force who worked on the earlier drafts of the ordinance regarded homeowner maintenance standards as the keystone of four integrated pieces of legislation. Three of the four proposals have already been accepted by Town Council.  Our Association and participants in the Voices of Village would regard passage of a much more limited version of the Ordinance as a very poor result indeed and a denial, nearly a betrayal, of the original purpose of those many citizens sponsoring this Ordinance.

The core of the problem regarding blighted properties in our neighborhoods is that such properties degrade the property values of other residents in the immediate neighborhood, rendering better-maintained properties less marketable in those areas and leads real estate agents to reduce or avoid sponsoring transactions in such neighborhoods. Low-income homeowners are indeed among the most negatively impacted by blighted properties since their homes are often their principal asset.  This result is wrong. It is especially detrimental in a tourist-dependent community.

We note in particular that Chapters 54-3 and 54-4  of the current ordinance proposal address very directly basic health and safety standards for housing – applying to structural defects  as well as to a variety of standard repair items and common sense expectations of home maintenance. These chapters ought to remain intact.

It was never our intent to create excess burdens on property owners whose homes are vacant for only part of the year, nor to create phantom disputes over neighborhood aesthetics. We think concerns over the latter in particular are a misguided delaying tactic. We absolutely do not share concerns expressed by those who fear arbitrary action by the Town’s trained enforcement officials.  We have from the beginning supported a reasonable appeals process as a check against enforcement errors as in Chapter 54-6.  We also accept the concept of  including a “sunset clause” in the ordinance to allow the Town Council to assess the impact of the legislations after one year of being in effect.

We urge the Town Council to remain on a steady course to approve Chapter 54 preserving as much of the original language and intent as possible. If the Council needs more time to evaluate the proposed legislation and correct path to approval, then we urge delay in action beyond the forthcoming  April 25 Council Meeting date to do the job right.

Sincerely yours,

Milton Berglund, Resident of Hyannis

John Crow, Resident of Osterville