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Smithtown cracks down on vacant buildings

Following complaints from residents, Smithtown town officials Tuesday vowed to crack down on abandoned buildings and their owners.

Vacant structures face possible demolition if owners fail to make them safe, town officials said. Property owners will be given 21 days to comply with town orders to make repairs or build fences to prevent children from entering empty buildings.

The new initiative is part of an attempt to streamline the town's procedures for dealing with derelict properties. Earlier this year, the town board gave town attorney John Zollo carte blanche to take property owners to court without prior approval from the board.

The new strategy is in response to concerns that abandoned or foreclosed structures often remain empty for months or years while the town tries to bring them into compliance with the building code. Town building officials say they often have trouble locating owners.

Officials agreed Tuesday to be more aggressive with property owners who fail to take steps such as erecting fences.

"I think we're on the right page here," Supervisor Patrick Vecchio said at the end of a 30-minute Town Hall meeting to discuss the issue.

The discussion was spurred in part by neighbor complaints about a pair of houses on West Main Street in Kings Park that were never completed or occupied. The owner of these Hightower houses, named after the construction company that built them, is in federal prison on unrelated conspiracy and fraud charges.

The houses, on adjoining properties, have stood empty for at least five years.

Zollo said Tuesday the owner, Frederic A. Powell, 56, of East Meadow, was issued a summons in his Allentown, Pa., prison cell. Foreclosure proceedings on the houses are pending, Zollo said. Town building director John Bongino said the homes would be inspected and possibly condemned.

The Hightower houses are among 21 buildings town officials believe are abandoned or unsafe. Bongino said three or four of those buildings could be demolished, pending inspection by town building officials.

Councilman Kevin Malloy said building officials previously had considered a building unsafe only if it was structurally deficient. Now, Malloy said, other factors, such as whether a building was empty and attracting rodents, also will be considered by building inspectors.

The town will be "putting people on notice, as the law requires," Malloy said.

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