Consulting firm backs ‘go-slow’ approach to building violations

LISBON — The downtown revitalization consulting firm being used by the village appears to agree with the go-slow approach in enforcing two new laws that are key to the mayor’s plan for attracting new businesses to the downtown.

Ed Piroli of Town Center Associates raised no objection sending out additional “friendly” warning letters to property owners advising them of the new laws and the possible consequences for failing to abide by them.

“You’re goal isn’t to punish people” but to get them to work with the village by fixing up their buildings and making some effort to rent them out, Piroli said during this week’s meeting of the village development committee.

Attending the meeting were Mayor Joseph Morenz, zoning inspector Zach Barkley, local chamber of commerce president Susan Shank and Councilman Peter Wilson, a frequent critic of the village’s slow approach in enforcing the village’s building maintenance and vacancy laws. None of the actual committee members –Roger Gallo, Jeff Snyder and Dawn Thomas — were in attendance.

The revised building maintenance law was approved last fall, with property owners sent a “friendly warning” letter in October advising them of their building’s violations. Piroli reported eight months later 71 of the 88 buildings in the central business district are still in violation.

Earlier this year council passed a new law requiring owners of vacant business buildings make some effort to rent or sell, and this resulted in a “friendly warning” letter to property owners in March. Four months later, only four of the 21 vacant business buildings in downtown Lisbon are listed for lease or for sale.

“So the vast majority have shown no interest? People are not taking us seriously,” Wilson said.

While Piroli said the key is enforcing the village ordinances, he also endorsed Morenz’s plans to have Barkley send out another round of warning letters by the end of July advising property owners they have yet to comply.

Morenz said TCA’s figures were outdated because some businesses on the list have come forward to obtain permits to correct building maintenance violations, which in most cases can be remedied with a fresh coat of paint.

“We got a few more people” coming forward, he said, adding several vacant properties were in the process of being renovated for new businesses but the work has since stopped.

Piroli said the July round of warning letters should take a less friendly tone. “I see no reason (to delay taking enforcement action). You passed an ordinance and it’s on the books,” he said,

After analyzing those responses, Morenz indicated Barkley will send out a final letter in October advising property owners who have still made no attempt to comply that enforcement action will finally be taken. ‘At this point it will be a year since you started, so no one should be surprised,” Piroli said.

Wilson said it will be too late in the year for those owners to fix their buildings, but Morenz said they can make a good-faith effort by obtaining a permit from Barkley.

The chamber of commerce’s Shank also questioned waiting that long, noting property owners will use winter as an excuse to do nothing, which she said is unacceptable.