Blight -- both commercial and residential -- persists in Fairfield. The former I. Brown Brothers furniture store on Kings Highway East, the dilapidated Double L farm stand on the Post Road in Southport, and the old Stratfield IGA Market are just a few examples of the dozens of blighted properties in town.
There are 35 properties on the town's 2012 blight list. Three properties were added to the list last year. Twelve property owners have complied and are cleaning up their buildings, 17 are pending further investigation, four have been cited for not responding to blight complaints and abatement plans, and the town recorded liens against two fined properties.
Chief Building Official and Blight Prevention Officer James Gilleran hopes the cleanup of some afflicted buildings can be sped up by the creation of a fund designated specifically for remediation -- using money generated from blight fines.
In his annual blight report before the Representative Town Meeting last week, Gilleran said the Building Department collected $39,300 in fines from formerly cited properties in 2012.
Two more property owners owe a combined $24,600 in outstanding fines, according to the report. Property owners are fined $100/day for not complying with remediation plans by a date set by the town's condemnation board.
As the town's blight ordinance stands now, the money collected in blight fines is deposited directly to the town's General Fund.
"As such, there are delays in accessing money, material, and labor in order to clean up the properties," Gilleran stated in his report.
He cited the former Double L farm stand -- the Post Road blemish just before the Westport border -- as a reason for a designated fund for blight cleanup. That building is ready to be condemned and torn down, but the building department does not have the money to do it.
"I don't have the machinery to do it myself," Gilleran said of the Building Department's budget. "This is going to be done as the Board of Selectman, Board of Finance, and RTM give me some money."
A committee of RTM members is reviewing the blight ordinance and is slated to give a report and recommendations before the full body at the RTM's March meeting.
At the committee's August meeting -- according to the most recently available minutes -- the members discussed Gilleran's plea for a separate blight fund to speed up remediation, as well as to address property owners who need assistance with upkeep of their homes (i.e. seniors, those with disabilities).
The committee is not only tasked with reviewing the ordinance, but deciding whether it needs to a sunset provision (a date set for the ordinance to cease to have effect).
Gilleran, however, said the list of blighted properties is proof enough that the town should keep the ordinance in place, and that he responds to hundreds of inquiries about what's blight and what's not each year.
"For the past six years, there's been blight," he said. "There's always blight."
Residents who would like to report a possible blight violation should fill out the Building Department's blight complaint form.