Action on abandoned properties ordinance nears

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  • Councilman Luciano (Lou) Signorino says he is concerned about inclusion of rules to govern unregistered vehicles on the land designated as abandoned/vacant.

After several years of working to establish an ordinance to address a long-existing problem of abandoned or vacant properties in the Township of West Milford, officials are close to achieving that goal. An ordinance could be adopted before the month of September is over.

Township Attorney Fred Semrau has been getting a proposed ordinance finalized for council action.

Michael Hodges, hired the head the township’s Health Department last year, presented suggested solutions to the problem at the Township Council's Aug. 16 meeting.

The absence of an appeal process has been a major concern in proposals up to this time, Hodges said. It is now proposed that property owners can either appeal to the Buildings Standards Board or take their case to court.

Councilman Luciano (Lou) Signorino was concerned about inclusion of rules to govern unregistered vehicles on the land designated as abandoned/vacant. He questioned the status of an old – maybe antique – vehicle that a father might have left to his son. He said the son may have plans to restore the car – but because he had no time to work on it, left it lying around for several years.

Hodges responded that three or four of 15 conditions in the ordinance would need to be met before the vehicle would be considered junk. Signorino said he opposed the proposed ordinance for the first couple of years it was being worked on because he felt some of what was written in it violated people’s property rights. There had been no consideration of possible Constitutional violations, he said.

Once the ordinance is adopted there will be a municipal registry for homes that have been vacated. The township will be able to notify property owners that they need to maintain unacceptable conditions such as overgrown weeds, debris and boarded-up windows. These property owners will have the choice of cleaning up and maintaining the property or being assessed for the cost after the township does the work itself.

Property owners notified that they are in violation will be sent a registration form to be completed and sent back to the township with a required fee. The fees might begin at $250 and increase by $250 each year the violation continues to exist.

Councilman Michael Hensley said he is pleased that the long-awaited ordinance is ready for introduction and action.

Semrau said that ordinances addressing abandoned/vacated properties are working very well in Bloomingdale and at other locations.

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