Gloversville Common Council strengthens blight enforcement

The Gloversville Common Council approved a series of ordinances establishing new chapters in the city code to introduce a system of "ticketing" for minor blight violation surrounding garbage, recycling and snow and ice removal. An administrative appeals panel was also established to hear appeals from property owners in contemplation of dismissal of the fine attached to the new enforcement measures. (The Leader-Herald/Ashley Onyon)

GLOVERSVILLE — The Common Council on Tuesday approved a series of ordinances establishing new chapters in the city code to enact a system of “ticketing” for minor blight violations surrounding garbage, recyclables and snow and ice removal to improve enforcement of existing regulations the city has previously struggled to address.

The Common Council conducted public hearings on each of the ordinances establishing a system of fines that will be issued to property owners for violating existing regulations in the city code. Additionally, an Administrative Appeals Panel was established and will meet once a month to hear appeals from ticketed individuals in contemplation of dismissal.

“There is nothing in any of this legislation that changes any of the maintenance standards at all,” Mayor Vincent DeSantis noted Tuesday. “These rules have always been on the books, it’s just that they have been very sporadically enforced and sometimes not enforced for a long time and we intend to be able to enforce them, but enforce them in a much more sensitive, even-handed way.”

The new chapters of city code will see building owners in violation of provisions related to garbage, recycling and snow and ice removal issued an administrative fine of $30 delivered via first class mail to the address on file with the city for tax collection purposes.

The building owner will have 65 days from receipt of the notice to pay the administrative fine or the fine will increase to $90. If the fine is not paid within 90 days, the administrative fine will be attached to the first subsequent annual city tax invoice for the property.

An Administrative Appeals Panel composed of the city’s deputy clerk, deputy finance commissioner and assessor will meet on the third Wednesday of each month at 6 p.m. at City Hall to hear appeals filed by property owners assessed a fine.

Property owners seeking to appeal an administrative fine must file a written appeal in the City Clerk’s Office within 65 days of issuance of the fine. A hearing before the appeals panel will be scheduled for the panel’s first subsequent session at least 14 days after the date of filing.

Each hearing will be limited to 10 minutes during which property owners may present any relevant information to the panel for consideration of dismissal. The administrative panel will then issue a determination to the property owner in writing.

Regulations subject to the system of administrative fines include the requirement that every dwelling in the city have an enclosed garbage storage container or facility to prevent odors and keep out vermin and wildlife. Such storage containers or facilities visible from the street must be screened from public view in an enclosed shed or outbuilding.

Garbage placed on the curb for collection must be sealed tightly in a leakproof white or clear plastic bag whether placed in a garbage can or other receptacle.

The same system of fines will be attached to requirements that all snow be removed from sidewalks within 24 hours from the time of accumulation and ice be appropriately addressed or removed. Icy sidewalks can be rendered “safe” and not in danger of receiving a code violation by covering the walkway with sand or other suitable substances.

Property owners at corners and marked crosswalks are required to clear snow deposited by city snowplow operators between the crosswalk and sidewalk for a width of at least three feet and to provide at least one opening in the snowbank to allow passage from the sidewalk to the street.

More serious violations and structural concerns will continue to be addressed by city code enforcers issuing property owners orders of violation giving a set number of days to resolve the violation. Homeowners are served with an appearance ticket if violations are not corrected.

These provisions were included in four ordinances establishing new chapters of city code and two ordinances modifying existing chapters to remove provisions currently contained in several sections of the code that were incorporated into the new chapters.

Public hearings were held on each of the proposed ordinances during Tuesday’s meeting with three residents taking the opportunity to address the council with questions and concerns while generally offering support for the city’s plan to address blight.

“I appreciate this, I actually applaud this, I’m positive about these changes,” Santo Lopresti said while requesting clarification on regulations surrounding the placement of garbage cans on properties lacking space outside of the public view and asking that snowplow drivers take care when packing snow onto the sidewalks at street corners that property owners will be responsible for clearing.

“All I’m asking is if there is going to be diligent enforcement, in certain situations maybe you could be advised to advise whoever is doing the plowing that there might be certain areas where we need to be reasonable if we’re going to enforce the code,” Lopresti said. “I wouldn’t want to see good citizens who are really trying to do right get nailed on a fine that probably isn’t fair.”

Lopresti used the example of his neighbor whose corner sidewalk was buried in snow by city plows that she was unable to clear herself this winter. Lopresti said he helped his neighbor shovel a path through the snow that was too hard for a snow blower to pass through.

“It is very difficult for her to honor that rule and take care of that whole corner when they are using her whole property so that cars can make the turn,” Lopresti said. “I’m happy about the diligence, we do need it, I just hope there is some wisdom involved.”

Additional concerns were raised over the requirement that garbage cans be placed out of public view which could cause a hardship for some residents with limited mobility who currently leave their receptacles in front of their homes for easy access and over the seemingly contradictory ability for property owners to place dumpsters in front of their homes.

Following the public hearings the council discussed the concerns raised by residents before taking up the proposed legislation. Both 2nd Ward Councilman Arthur Simonds and City Assessor Joni Dennie agreed that they had questions surrounding appropriate placement of their own garbage cans on their respective corner properties.

“I don’t have a backyard, you can see my property from every way you come,” Dennie said.

“My garbage cans are at the back of the house, but they’re on the driveway,” Simonds added, asking that the enforcement officer provide direction in the future for such situations. “You look down my long driveway you’re going to see a garbage can at the end of it.”

The council pointed to the Administrative Appeals Panel that Dennie will serve on as a venue to decide the issue, with DeSantis noting that the enforcement officer will have some discretion.

“We always enforce these things reasonably,” DeSantis said. “You might be in violation of the technical provisions of the section, if you’re driving down Kingsboro Avenue at 31 miles an hour you’re also in violation, but you’re never going to get a ticket for that.”

DeSantis also addressed concerns raised over the placement of dumpsters on private properties in the city, noting that they are allowed under city code, but suggesting the city reconsider where they can be placed in the future.

“The code actually provides that dumpsters have to be placed in a location that’s approved by the fire department, so we do have the authority to oversee the placing of dumpsters on private property,” DeSantis said.

The Common Council on Tuesday unanimously approved five of the six proposed ordinances enacting the system of ticketing for minor blight violations and establishing the Administrative Appeals Panel.

A sixth ordinance seeking to modify chapter 170 of the city code to remove provisions included in the new chapters was tabled until the next meeting on May 14 due to a clerical error that prevented the council from reviewing the final legislation ahead of Tuesday’s meeting.