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Town considers point system for blighted property violations

Riverhead Town is considering adopting a new approach to dealing with blighted properties in town.

The proposed system, which is already in use in other towns, would assign a specific number of points to various types of code violations, and if a particular property racks up a total of 100 points, it is declared blighted.

At that point, the property owner is offered the chance to sign a compliance agreement with the town, which gives them a certain amount of time to address all outstanding violations. 

If the property owner doesn’t sign, or the schedule is not met, a public hearing is held and the owner is ordered to clean up the property. If that does not occur, the town can do the work itself and add the cost to the owner’s property tax bill, according to Riverhead town attorney Bob Kozakiewicz. He said he first learned of this approach from chief building inspector Brad Hammond, who used to work for Huntington Town, where a point system has been in place for four years.

That code allocates 50 points for violations like a property that’s determined to “pose a serious threat to the safety, health or general welfare of the community” or that “has attracted or been an instrument of illegal, noxious or deleterious activity,” among other infractions.

Smaller offenses like broken windows, unsecured doors, excessive litter or overgrown grass that’s at least 10 inches high are assessed 10 points. Graffiti is also 10 points.

“We have a problem downtown with stores being empty and not being maintained,” said Councilwoman Catherine Kent, who chairs the town’s code revision committee. 

Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said Huntington’s law gives that town the ability to accumulate fines for multiple violations, something that’s missing in Riverhead’s current code. 

If someone has signed a compliance agreement for something like overgrown grass, the proposed code change would allow the town to just cut it again if it becomes overgrown again, instead of having to initiate another separate enforcement action, officials said. 

“This is a way of holding people accountable,” Ms. Kent said. “I’ve been told that some buildings downtown have animals living in them.”

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Photo caption: A former auto parts store on East Main Street has been vacant for years, although there are now plans to redevelop it. (Tim Gannon, file photo)