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First reading of blight ordinance raises enforcement questions

Date: 6/5/2015

AGAWAM – The first reading of an ordinance regarding blighted properties in the city was brought before the City Council on June 1 and passed to the second reading.

The blighted properties ordinance would address abandoned and damaged buildings and parcels by requiring they be registered with the town, according to City Council President Christopher Johnson.

Two citizens attended the meeting to speak in favor of the ordinance, citing damaged properties in their neighborhoods as an eyesore and dangerous. While the ordinance received a positive recommendation from the Legislative Committee, questions were raised about the necessity of it.    

Councilor Dennis Perry said Agawam’s laws already allow the city to take care of buildings, such as the much-discussed Games and Lanes site, which has long been a point of controversy.

Perry said, when it came down to it, the town was capable of doing something with the property; it just has not.

“We can put all the laws we want in the books. The problem is it has to be enforced, and that’s the thing that bothers me,” Perry said. “[If] this strengthens our case, I don’t know. I’m hoping it does … We need to make sure these things are enforced.”

Johnson echoed these sentiments.

“Well, frankly, the only reason they’re not cleaned up is because the existing laws are not being enforced,” Johnson said.

The councilors agreed that many of the 22 properties shown as blighted or foreclosed need to be addressed. Councilor Donald Rheault said many were “long overdue” and Councilor George Bitzas called the dilapidated buildings “an embarrassment to the town.”

Though the ordinance passed from the first reading to the second unanimously, Councilor Gina Letellier also questioned the enforcement of the ordinance, should it pass into law.

She said the ordinance was “more comprehensive,” but wanted to ensure the residents that it would be fairly enforced across the board to all affected property owners.

“I think there needs to be a strategy that the public is aware of as to how they can pursues these type of complaints,” she said.

The blight ordinance itself came at the recommendation of from the attorney general’s office after a tour of the town.

The second reading is set to take place at the City?Council’s next meeting on June 15.