The Saugerties Town Board voted unanimously to enact a controversial property maintenance law bringing to close a five-year process to create a law that gives the Town expanded power to deal with derelict and problem properties.
“This law has been years in the making, it has gone through many, many revisions and we’ve had conversations with folks,” Town Supervisor Fred Costello said at Wednesday’s Town Board meeting.
Even with the revisions, the law still didn’t sit well with several members of the public like former Conservative Town Supervisor candidate Gaetana Ciarlante who painted a portrait of a dystopian future of “grass police” and unfettered access by Town officials who will deliver onerous fines that will drive people from their homes. She read off a booklet of issues she had with the law, well exceeding the allotted time for each speaker in a meeting that was ultimately nearly three hours. When she was asked by the Board to summarize her complaints with the law, she sat down and simply handed the booklet to another speaker who continued to attack the proposed legislation.
Costello said the Town is not interested in driving around and being grass police or creating the atmosphere of affluent suburban gated communities. He said the law does not create new opportunities for enforcement, it simply gives officials an expanded tool kit to seek remedies from problem property owners beyond the current option of the courts.
Currently, when the building department seeks a remedy and is unsuccessful, they can ticket the resident and force them into court,” Costello said. “With court, we’ve had mixed results, then COVID-19 happened.”
He said the new law will give officials new tools to deal with big issues such as what happened at a multi-family property in a residential neighborhood during the pandemic. Costello said the residents quit paying rent, so the landlord retaliated by stopping the dumpster collection. This resulted in the trash overflowing the dumpster and then blowing into the neighbors’ yards.
“Issuing a ticket is not a meaningful remedy,” Costello said. With the new law, the Town can pay for carting service and the landlord will be forced to reimburse the Town for the carting service on the next Town levy. “It’s not fair for the neighbors to have to deal with someone else’s trash.”
When asked if this law would undermine the Town’s right-to-farm law, Costello said that’s not the case and the portion regarding tall grasses is only to address fire hazards. “We’re not interested in hayfields. This does not hinder the right-to-farm law, which protects odors and appearances farms may generate,” he said.
Town Board Member Mike Ivino threw his support behind Costello, noting that the law will help people to resolve issues outside of court.
One resident in the audience was so upset they interrupted Ivino before being told to pipe down by the Board.
Deputy Town Supervisor Leanne Thornton said the idea for the law started by mimicking a long-standing property maintenance law in place in the Village of Saugerties. But as time went on, officials realized the needs of the Town were quite different and officials took a different path with the law.
“There never could be a consensus on what this should be or what it could be like,” she said.
She also asserted that this law will not create “lawnmower police.”
“It’s been modified half a dozen times. It’s not an ordinance, people.”