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Riverhead mulls code revision that would fine owners up to $5,000 for blighted properties

Catherine Kent was appointed Riverhead Town's deputy supervisor.

Catherine Kent was appointed Riverhead Town's deputy supervisor. Credit: James Escher

Owners of blighted commercial and residential properties in Riverhead could face additional property tax fees up to $5,000 if the town board approves a revision to town code.

The revision would enact a system assessing points to property owners for specific violations, such as boarded or broken windows or doors, roof damage, excessive litter or debris and overgrown grass, among others, said Town Attorney Robert Kozakiewicz.

Once a property accrues 100 points, code enforcement officials would issue a notice to the owner and bring the matter to the town board’s attention.

The owner would then have 30 days to either prove the property is not blighted or enter into a restoration agreement with the town, including a timeline for repairs of any of the identified blighted conditions. Failure to do either would result in the placement of additional fees on the property owners’ tax bills.

The fee would be $2,500 for residences and $5,000 for commercial properties.

“It’s a tool in our tool belt,” Councilwoman Catherine Kent  said at the Aug. 21 public hearing on the proposal. Kent noted her frustration with the poor condition of some downtown buildings and said amending the code “would be for the betterment of the whole town.”

However, Councilwoman Jodi Giglio raised concerns about the cost to homeowners. “A lot of homeowners may not have the money, otherwise they would probably want to fix their homes,” Giglio said at the hearing.

The amendment would add in a "Blighted Property" section to Chapter 217 of Riverhead's town code and would be similar to laws in Huntington — most of which were amended in 2016 — to deal with blighted properties.

Riverhead officials are waiting for the written comment period to close on Friday. If there are no objections, the proposal could appear before the board for a vote in September, Kozakiewicz said. 

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