B y Derek Liebig
If you have garbage, junked cars or excessively long grass on your property, consider this your warning.
The village plans to force property owners to clean up their parcels as part of an effort to improve the community.
Those who don’t comply could face legal action.
“We can’t have this stuff in our community,” said Mayor Peter Telisky. “These problems shouldn’t and can’t exist in a safe and healthy community. This is the amnesty period. After that we will go as far as we need to.”
Most of the violations the board is hoping to correct include the accumulation of garbage and other junk outside homes as well as unkempt lawns.
Telisky said he would speak with members of the media in an effort to get the word out after which properties in violation of village codes would receive a notice informing them of the violation and a request to comply.
If they fail to comply within 30 days of receiving a written notice, the code enforcement officer or the Whitehall Police Department will begin issuing appearance tickets.
“We want to work with people. We aren’t looking to cause trouble for anyone but we need to get this stuff cleaned up,” Telisky said.
He said he understands that some people may have financial hardships that make cleaning up their property difficult but the village is very limited in the assistance it can legally provide on private property.
“We might be able to point people in the right direction,” he said. “If people can at least show us that they have begun to make some progress we can work with them.”
For code enforcement officer Garry Bennett, these problems are nothing new.
He says he’s seen everything and heard everything you could imagine.
He, Mayor Telisky and village trustee Ken Bartholomew recently toured the community with Bennett as he pointed out some of the violations in town.
One property the trio stopped and looked at it was 63 Champlain Avenue.
They found used diapers lodged in trees, grass several feet high, a burn pit, debris scattered along the property and the smell of gas of emanating from the cellar where a furnaces most likely leaked after residents of the home moved on without turning off their water service.
Unfortunately the property is not unique.
There are the charred remains of a home that burned on First Avenue three years ago, a dilapidated barn held up with a come-along, and a house on North Williams street that’s had a vehicle parked in the yard for 10 years.
And those are the PG-rated violations. Bennett said he inspected one house that had six inches of cat feces in the tub, with more excrement in the kitchen cabinets.
There was a property on Saunders Street a couple of years ago that had so much garbage stored in it that it created a flea infestation that affected the neighbors living next door.
A couple that was going to buy the property was completely covered in fleas after they attempted to enter the building.
All told, Bennett said there are currently 47 different properties in the village, including seven along North Williams Street from the village hall to Poultney Street, with some kind of code violation.
“This is detrimental to the health and welfare of the community,” he said. “It’s time to fix this problem.”
Bennett said part of the problem is absentee landlords. Some have never seen the properties they own and won’t comply with codes or answer to violations. If they don’t comply, a warrant could be issued, hopefully creating enough of an inconvenience that they may eventually get their properties in order.
Although most of the problems are already considered violations, the board decided at last week’s meeting to be more vigilant in enforcing these laws.
At the moment, all violations are subject to the current codes on the book, but during the board meeting, Bennett said some of the current laws are problematic.
For instance there is no jurisdiction over fenced in pools. Bennett said one home in the village has a pool that has not been used in four years. That pool is full of black water that has become a breeding ground for mosquitoes and emits an order that neighbors have to smell all summer, but because there is a fence around the pool, there’s nothing he can do about it.
“It’s one instance where the law does not go far enough,” Bennett said.
And if a property owner defaults on their property, and the county takes it over, they seldom, if ever, bring the properties in compliance.
At the last village board meeting trustee Ken Bartholomew proposed that the village review state standards and although nothing has been settled yet, it’s possible the board may enact tougher laws.
As a measure of good faith, various village department heads have been asked to clean up village properties under their jurisdiction, including the waste water treatment facility and the village garage, efforts that are currently underway. There are also plans to paint the village hall.