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Town Board approves registry for blighted properties

Riverhead Town will now have a point system and an ongoing registry for dealing with blighted and unkempt properties in the town under two new requirements approved Wednesday.

Officials say the new requirements are needed because properties in default often change ownership, making it difficult for the town to notify owners when their properties become unruly or deteriorated.

“This is a proactive move on the part of the town,” said Councilwoman Catherine Kent.

“I’m glad we have the support of the board,” Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said. “We tried to do this a couple of years ago and there wasn’t majority support. I’m glad we have support now.”

The first step will be to create a “mortgage in default” registry of all properties that fall into foreclosure or default. The new law will require banks or mortgage holders to notify the town whenever a property under their ownership goes into foreclosure, and whenever a property in foreclosure changes owners.

If not, those property owners face fines.

The registration fee is $200 two times per year and is non-refundable.

The second part of the plan is to assign a point system for various types of blight, and when the total reaches 100 points, the property is officially labeled as blighted. If it’s not cleaned up within 30 days, its owner is required to register that property in the registry, which carries a fee of $2,500 for residential properties and $5,000 for commercial properties.

The number system actually lists specific violations and how many points they amount to.

For instance, storage of junk vehicles is 15 points; presence of graffiti is 10 points; broken, exposed or hazardously utilized electric wires is 15.

Properties can get hit with 50 points in one shot for several reasons, such as if they pose a serious threat to health and safety; if it’s been issued prior summonses that weren’t corrected; or if there are illegal, noxious materials on the property or fire hazards, among other violations.

Broken windows, unregistered motor vehicles, excessive litter and overgrown grass that’s at least 10 inches tall also are specified.

A bank or mortgage holder will face fines of between $250 and $1,000 or 15 days in jail for not registering or violating the new requirements for a first time.

A second offense within five years carries fines of between $1,000 and $2,500 or 15 days in jail and a third offense within five years carries fines of between $2,500 and $5,000, or 15 days in jail.

The new code will let mortgage holders or banks which have exceeded 100 points to enter into a restoration agreement with the town in which the property is cleaned up within a certain time frame as outlined by the town in the agreement. Officials say the plan is for all of the violations to be cleaned up during this period, rather than allowing property owners to clean up just enough of the violations to get under the 100-point threshold.

The town’s next step will likely be to issue a request for proposals for a company to run the registry.

The Town Board in late June heard a presentation from a Florida company that said it could manage the registry at no cost to the town under a plan in which they would split the registration fees with the town.

Photo caption: A blighted property on Main Road in Aquebogue. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

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