Smithtown officials on Tuesday plan to discuss a strategy for getting rid of dozens of abandoned buildings that residents and civic groups say are a blight on the community.
The groups also say their complaints about empty structures often go unheeded by town officials.
Smithtown leaders, however, caution that the process for condemning derelict properties is cumbersome. In some cases, property owners cannot be located or must be taken to court if they refuse to fix problems identified by town officials.
Officials have a list of dozens of houses and businesses that they believe are unsafe or abandoned.
Town building director John Bongino said his staff usually gives property owners an opportunity to correct problems. If the owner fails to comply, the town may take the owner to court.
But sometimes building officials have trouble finding the owners, which may be a bank if the site is in foreclosure, Bongino said. He said some abandoned properties are "in between" -- the owner has fallen behind on payments, but the bank that holds the mortgage hasn't seized the parcel.
"Legally, where is it?" Bongino said of an "in between" property. "Is it still in the homeowners' name? Is it still in the bank's name?"
In one extreme case, town officials said they want to demolish a pair of empty houses on West Main Street in Kings Park, but their owner, Frederic A. Powell, 56, of East Meadow, is serving a 4-year federal prison sentence for unrelated conspiracy and wire fraud.
Construction of the houses was never completed. Neighbors have raised concerns that the buildings attract vermin and that children break into the properties.
Sean Lehmann, president of the Kings Park Civic Association, said town officials gave him a "mixed reaction" when he asked them to condemn the properties.
"We consider them unsafe," Lehmann said. "Shouldn't the town . . . see that these projects are completed?"
Bongino said Smithtown has relatively few abandoned buildings compared with other towns in western Suffolk. But he acknowledged that "for the person living next door, it's not a pleasant sight."
Members of the town board and other officials on Tuesday will discuss "a plan of action regarding abandoned and foreclosed structures which are a threat to public safety and the public welfare," according to a memo from Supervisor Patrick Vecchio. The meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. at Smithtown Town Hall, 99 W. Main St.