Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Responsible Property Maintenance

Since being elected to the Council and even before I was elected while I was campaigning, one of the most common complaints I heard from residents were the disrepair of the neighborhood.  While I detest overbearing governments with excessive rules, I think we need to find a balance to protect and preserve our community.   Denville is no longer a town with vast acres of homesteads, we are a community of homes living together in near proximity.  If there is a home in our neighborhood that is in complete disrepair, it affects our safety and quality of life.

If we expect to still maintain our community, we all have to hold up our end of the bargain and work together to have a reasonable standard and process of protecting our community.

For nearly 2 years this Town Council has tried to find a reasonable approach to fair standards for property maintenance and we are about to introduce that this evening by adopting an International Code of Property Maintenance that is used in many surrounding towns.  And most important is the pre-amble that we are inserting -

"The Township respects the right of property owners to maintain and beautify their own property and it is not the intent of this ordinance to bring hardship upon property owners or that this ordinance be enforced in such a manner as to be punitive for minor infractions of the ordinance.  The Township is concerned, however, that properties are maintained to a minimum standard in order to enhance the quality of life in Denville"

Unfortunately, as with many issues, there is some misinformation being circulated.  I'd like to respond to a mass email being sent out.    Below is the email and my response:


1.      I do not like canned legislation. If Denville has an issue craft the appropriate ordinance and with needed tools.

It is actually not canned legislation.  The legislation just refers to adopting the International Property Maintenance code developed by a Code Council of Planners.  This code has held up to many challenges.  To customize a code for Denville individually was attempted 2 years ago and it was not right.  We did not adopt.  It is not a good use of taxpayer money to spend countless planning officials time and hours for a customized approach when a general supported codes exists and many surrounding towns similar to Denville utilize.

2.      I think the health inspector and the building inspector have enough in the State  and local legislation to deal with abandoned property.

Actually both the health inspector and building inspector have asked for this.  They are constantly informed about deteriorating homes and unsafe conditions but being Denville has no standards in place it is very subjective and hard to remedy anything.  With this code there will be some framework that they can work with property owners on.  And remember, there are several ways that  a property owner can work with the official.

3.      I do not believe this is fair to elderly, informed, disabled, unemployed and those living on limited income.

Any of those circumstances will be considered.  In addition, at Tonight's Council Meeting we will review a series of programs available to many residents to assist with home care.  Often these programs may not be available if there is not a property maintenance in place.

4.      I do not believe that all of the above qualify for  financial assistance through  things such as Community Block grants…that are actually drying up.

There are many other programs that will be presenting to the Council this evening.

5.      I believe that many would not apply and reveal their information to government and neighbors.

Denville is a small community with so many volunteer organizations that can help a homeowner.  Community organizations that are not government run.  We have several homes that are in desperate dangerous need of repair but some homeowners do not want to receive help from their neighbors.  However, when these homeowners are informed about standards that they must follow they have been very responsive to assistance.  This will encourage those needed to accept help.  And will be a reasonable solution for their neighbors that are also impacted from the properties disrepair.

6.      I know friends, neighbors and family are not a resource to be counted on in these circumstances. I have attempted this form of organization.

See above response.

7.      I know this will not be dealt with equally across the Township. It will pit neighbor against neighbor.

Right now it is neighbor against neighbor because our officials have no framework to base things on.  Since being on the Council there have been countless residents that have informed me about neighbors. However, it has been such a gray area that a solutions are limited.  We were left with a construction official wondering is whether reports were violations or not? This ordinance will establishe groundwork. The construction official can work with the property owner to help achieve compliance.  As well, residents have a process to work with the construction official over several months and if that is still in dispute they can appeal to the Council and even finally Municipal Court (if it even has to go that far)  Which according to our construction official is rare.

8.      I know most residents have little information on ordinances that can affect them financially or can be embarrassing when enforced. A 42 page document that can be purchased on Amazon that is adopted as a Township ordinance will  not truly be accessible to residents until they get their lawyer involved.  

There are several copies available at Town Hall and it is available online here.

9.      No one knows anyone else’s circumstances at the time and to impose daily fines and bring people to court will only reinforce the concept that this ordinance was developed as a money maker.

Again, there is a process before any fines would take place.  Currently there are many Township Ordinances with fines.  However, they are unclear and sometimes inconsistent.  There has never been any mention of budgeting anything more for this or from this.  To say that the intent of this ordinance is to be a "money maker" is complete speculation and has never been uttered by any Council Member, The Mayor or any administration official.  AWe have been working on this for over 2 years, never has that been mentioned.   Nearly all our surrounding towns have this or another property maintenance code.  We need to have something to preserve the community.  

To customize it to be specific to Denville would be extremely costly in planning hours and is not a good use of taxpayer money.  Especially because this code we are introducing has been planning approved and legally sound and tested.

Don't fall for politically motivated emails that don't have all the facts.  Please attend tonight's meeting to hear more discussion on this ordinance.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Downtown Improvements

I recently met with Mayor Tom Andes regarding the status of downtown improvements.  Denville has a great opportunity to take advantage of recently awarded grant money to make improvements to our downtown district.

I am so excited about this prospect.  The Downtown Economic Advisory Committee has agreed on a recommendation for Phase 1 of improvements that include new period-style light fixtures, sound improvements, landscape improvements, the addition of brick pavers on much of the sidewalks and more.  As Council President, I agreed to make every effort to have this plan brought before the Town Council by our regular council meeting in July.  Provided the Administration is able to finalize their presentation and recommendation, it should not be a problem to move this along quickly.

There are also several grants identified in upcoming years that can help fund further phases of the project.  We expect this may be a 10 year complete project but hopefully Phase 1 can begin by next year.  Phase 1 would focus along Broadway from Diamond Spring Road to First Avenue.

This plan will be a tremendous asset to our Downtown District and undoubtedly solidify Denville's reputation as the best downtown district in our area.