Ancram debates how safe is ‘unsafe’

ANCRAM—For some, a proposed law dealing with dangerous dilapidated buildings in town cannot come soon enough. Others say the town already has too many laws and one person called the law patently discriminatory.

At a public hearing before the August 21 Town Board meeting, the board spent an hour listening to residents’ questions and views on Local Law #1 of 2014 which would allow “for the repair or removal of unsafe buildings.” The board has already had two prior in-depth discussions about the proposed law, one in June with Building Inspector/Code Enforcement Officer Edward Ferratto and another in July with Town Attorney Jason Shaw.

Town Supervisor Art Bassin told the crowd last week that the board may take three or four more months to decide the fate of the proposal, which calls for buildings or structures that are in a state of disrepair and deemed dangerous to the health, safety and welfare of occupants or the general public or property to be identified. Owners of these structures will be notified about the need to remedy the situation. If the owner doesn’t comply, the town would have the power to remove the offending structure and charge the owner for the cost on his or her tax bill.

Among those commenting was town resident Donna Hoyt, owner of the former Porter’s Store. She read a lengthy written statement in which she criticized the law, the building inspector, politicians and special interests. She said the law is designed to “discriminate against middle and low income property owners” by allowing politicians to target properties that they or special interests want to acquire. They then heap engineering and contracting charges on the property owner’s tax bill, causing owners to lose their property. “This law has all the potential of becoming legal land grabbing,” she said.

Resident John Perrella wanted to know how soon the town could do something about a dilapidated house on Poole Hill Road and if the owner had been approached about the state of his property. He later asked why a building like that was allowed to exist and said it was unfair to the community.

Resident Terry Boyles asked board members if they knew how many buildings in town are unsafe and how many other towns have such a law.

Resident Ron Brant pointed out that all the costs associated with enforcing the law will be the responsibility of the building owner only if he does not comply. If the town hires an engineer who finds the building is unsafe and the homeowner ignores that, the charge goes on his property tax bill; but if the homeowner takes action then the engineering fee would be paid by the town.

Fire Chief David Boice asked questions about how the town would deal with buildings that are in foreclosure. He said the “length of the process would equate to a really expensive process.” He later noted the town does not enforce the zoning laws it already has.

Town Justice Bob Wilcox said he had heard about towns that have this unsafe building law on the books, but they tend to be bigger, like Huntington, Long Island.

Resident Libby McKee said it would be good for the town to put this law in place.

Resident Leah Wilcox noted that the law calls for a hearing process to take place and that there is not just one person deciding the fate of a property.

When the hearing concluded, Supervisor Bassin said, “That was a great conversation.” He encouraged anyone with further thoughts to send them to him and he would circulate them by email to keep everyone abreast of the issues. “There’s no rush,” he said, “We’ll work our way through this.”

During the regular meeting, the board heard a presentation from Jeff Akins, P.E, from the Dutchess County Department of Public Works, who gave an update on Phase IV of the Harlem Valley Rail Trail project, which will extend the trail north from the Village of Millerton and the Town of North East in Dutchess County into Ancram in Columbia County.

Mr. Akins said the next section contains a considerable amount of wetlands, flooding, beavers, endangered species and habitats of concern. He said the trail will vary from being a 10-foot-wide-paved asphalt surface, a 6- to 8-foot-wide-gravel surface and a raised boardwalk. He said construction is expected to take one calendar year beginning and ending in 2017. The ultimate goal is a 46-mile trail from Wassaic to Chatham.

In other business the board declared a town dump truck surplus equipment. But Highway Superintendent Jim MacArthur had already sold the truck for $8,000. The Town Board resolution regarding the truck called for Mr. MacArthur to first secure Town Board approval before selling any surplus equipment in the future. Board members joked that the incident was indicative of a “pattern” with Mr. MacArthur, who “asks for forgiveness instead of permission.”

In another Highway Department matter, the Town Board voted unanimously to pay off early the balance of $280,000 on the $450,000 loan it took out in 2010 to renovate and construct an addition to the highway garage. Pre-payment of the loan, which has a 10-year term, will save $25,000 in interest over the next six years.

Before the vote, Supervisor Bassin asked Mr. MacArthur, “How’s the garage doing? You haven’t sold it yet have you?”

“No, but I’ve got the real estate signs up,” said the highway boss.

The next board meeting is September 18 with a public hearing on the tentative 2015 budget at 6:30 p.m.; a 414 Law public hearing at 6:55 p.m. and the regular meeting at 7 p.m.

To contact Diane Valden email .

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