Meriden has been “ratcheting up” its campaign to improve or remove blighted properties, according to City Manager Guy Scaife. The idea is to get owners to bring those buildings up to standards, whenever possible, or to move toward foreclosure.
The effort involves using all legal avenues, including fines, court action and tax sales. The city has foreclosed on and demolished several blighted properties in the last few years, most recently in May. Other properties continue to pose problems. While on the blight list, a fine of $100 a day accumulates — one property has piled up $150,000 in blight fines. The city can also opt to clean up a property and place a lien on it, the cost to be recouped when the property is sold.
Fortunately, said Scaife, these cases are not typical; the city gets “good compliance” in most cases. “You knock on a door, you talk with a person about this and people comply.” It’s the challenging 10 percent “that consumes a lot of time and can be really detrimental to a neighborhood.”
But when we consider this topic, the white elephant in the middle of the room is the huge, hulking ruin that once was Meriden-Wallingford Hospital, and the nearby former medical office building, both owned by the city itself. It’s hard to imagine anything that could be more detrimental to that neighborhood than this pair of dilapidated properties.
True, the city has been trying to unload them for going on two decades, and that possibility now seems closer than ever. One King LLC has entered into an agreement to transform the former hospital into a senior housing and commercial development if the city can acquire $5 million necessary to clean up the site.
Those developers have also expressed interest in 116 Cook, but there are questions about whether that building is structurally sound. A study is being done before plans go ahead.
When it comes to run-down houses, no doubt there are owners who just don’t care, and it takes city enforcement to make them take action.
For other owners, though, it is easy to see that financial hardship can be the problem. For such owners, those spiraling $100-a-day fines may be the last straw.
While it is true that the city has been trying to get rid of the two big ruins on Cook Avenue for a long time, it is also true that nothing the city has managed to accomplish has yet begun to lift the burden of diminished property values — not to mention sheer ugliness — that these properties have been inflicting on that neighborhood for so many years.
The city must make sure that whatever development does take place at those sites — when and if it finally comes to pass — will do something positive and substantial for the neighborhood.