SWAMPSCOTT — The town has had enough with properties sitting vacant and deteriorating over time. Now, Town Administrator Sean Fitzgerald and other officials want property owners to keep up with their upkeep.
Town Meeting members will vote whether to adopt a general bylaw enforcing the improvement of blighted or unsafe structures or properties and the maintenance of vacant buildings. Places such as the Glover Property and the former gas station at the corner of Norfolk Avenue and Paradise Road, across from Clarke Elementary School, are “perfect examples” of what happens when you let buildings stay vacant, says Board of Selectmen Chair Peter Spellios.
“The town has no tools at its disposal to encourage proper reuse and maintenance from property owners,” said Spellios.
The former gas station has sat unused for more than five years and is an “incredible blight,” said Spellios. It’s used for parking for a medical office down the street, which may not be allowed under the town’s zoning bylaws, he said.
With the Glover Property, located at the end of Vinnin Square bordering Marblehead and Salem, Spellios said he regularly sees broken windows, birds flying into the building, and vehicles throughout the unused property. Despite town efforts to engage with the property’s private owner, he said they have chosen to let this fall into disrepair going on 20 years now.
“By inadvertently allowing that to happen, we are sponsoring the continuation of blight,” he said.
The Glover Property is owned by the Athanas family, under the name of Sunbeam Development Limited, according to the Massachusetts Secretary of State’s office. They did not return a phone call seeking comment.
As described in Article 27 in the Town Meeting Warrant, blighted “is a condition of structure or property that, by reasonable determination, displays physical deterioration that renders the structure unfit for human habitation, in need of major maintenance or repair, or lacks ventilation, light, or sanitation facilities that contributes to detrimental effects to safety or health and unreasonably interferes with the common interest of the general public in maintaining decent, safe, and sanitary structures.”
“This bylaw gives us the tools to at least advance a conversation about how to find an adequate way to bring properties back to proper condition,” Spellios said.
Town Administrator Sean Fitzgerald hopes passing the bylaw will remind absentee owners to work with the town on improvements, maintenance and upkeep. He said he wants the town to have successful properties and vibrant commercial areas.
“Having some of these tired properties really hurts everyone,” Fitzgerald said. “Properties around them become affected and we don’t want to see that continue. We have a bold agenda for revitalizing neighborhood spaces and commercial areas.”
If the bylaw is adopted by the town, an enforcement authority such as the building inspector may investigate or inspect a property if they are informed of blighted or unsafe existing conditions.
“This is one of a number of tools that can help us be that much more effective as we seek to revitalize and find a balance for economic development and neighborhood preservation,” Fitzgerald said.