New ordinance could give town options to clean up dilapidated & abandoned properties

by Geoff Fox

Hancock officials have introduced a new ordinance that could be a tool to combat an issue up for discussion for many years – what to do about properties that are in disrepair and need rehabilitation.

The ordinance -Nuisance and Abandoned Abatement – could be added into the Code of Ordinances of the Town of Hancock. The rules are still in the rough draft phase.

Officials explained that the ordinance, if adopted, doesn’t carry the full thrust of a building code, but gives the town options for addressing problem properties.

As the proposed ordinance states, the Hancock Urban Renewal Authority For Blight Clearance Act, which became effective October 1, 2022, allows the town to take action in its “ongoing efforts to promote economic development within the corporate limits of the town, and eliminate slum and blight throughout the town.”

“As part of the town’s comprehensive approach toward achieving the aforementioned goals, town officials deem it to be necessary and in the best interest of the citizenry of the Town of Hancock to adopt the Ordinance,” the document says.

The ordinance defines what qualifies as “abandoned property” – any property that “is not occupied by either the property owner or a legal tenant and is: A. Unsuitable for habitation or reasonable use; B. In a dilapidated, hazardous, unsafe of dangerous condition; or C. Open to entrance or trespass. “

The document defines “nuisance property” as a “property that is in an unsafe, hazardous or unsanitary condition that: A. Interferes with the use or enjoyment of adjacent land; B. Injures or interferes with adjacent land; or C. Poses a significant danger to or adversely affects the health, safety of welfare of the surrounding community.”

Kuczynski said a municipal infraction citation could be issued in that process. It would require a court appearance, but also carries a fine and a district court has the authority to order the owner to “abate the nuisance” or correct the problem.

Going this route would be less costly than going through the circuit court.

It would also allow Faith to track what has occurred in regards to the nuisance property. Faith then could file the citation instead of a lawsuit after 30 days.

There’s still allowance for an agreement process in the ordinance, which could dismiss the citation.

Officials formally introduced the ordinance, but Kuczynski will be making a few adjustments to the final ordinance.

Faith later said the ordinance would give the town the authority to address those blighted properties in town. That power has not been afforded to town officials in the past.

The draft presented at the September town meeting is not the final draft.

“I’d like to see little more teeth in it,” Faith said of the ordinance when Kuczynski edits the final version.

He said he’d like to see the town have the authority to fine the property owners, possibly with a daily fine, until the property owner mitigates the problem.

“I’m saying that somebody who’s making a good faith effort to fix up a property, we’re certainly going to work with them, but some of these folks, we’re going to have to have a hammer,” Faith said. “We’re going to have some kind of enforcement action to get them to move.”

Enforcement will be the responsibility of Faith, or Hancock’s town manager or designee. Faith said should a fine be introduced into the ordinance, the money would go to the town, which could be put back into town development efforts.

“We’re the ones dealing with the problem. If we’re going to fine somebody, we’d like to have that money to use for whatever we need to make the town better,” he said.

No public hearing is required for this ordinance and it could be officially adopted during the October meeting.

While the public hearing isn’t required, Faith said copies of the ordinance are available at Town Hall, and a few citizens have already reached out for copies.

There won’t be an official public hearing at the October town meeting, but the ordinance will be discussed and vote on during the open meeting on October 10.

If passed, the ordinance would take effect 30 days later.