Planning office seeks ability to issue fines

WALLINGFORD — Town officials hope to address unpermitted sign and outside storage issues in town through a proposed ordinance that if passed would allow the zoning enforcement officer to fine violators.

During an Ordinance Committee meeting on Thursday, Town Planner Kacie Costello shared an updated list of items she would like considered fineable offenses under a proposed citation ordinance. A similar ordinance was considered by the committee in 2010 but never moved to the Town Council for a vote.

While there are other issues that could be addressed by the ordinance, unpermitted signs and the storage of prohibited material on private property are the most frequent zoning violation seen in town, Costello said. They are both easily remedied issues as well, she said. The town has lengthy sign regulations that prohibit or only temporarily allow signs, such as the A-frame variety, often used by businesses. Regulations also outline proper outside storage practices for trucks, trailers, construction equipment, metal containers, boats and campers, dumpsters and recycling containers.

“I think signs are an issue,” Town Councilor Craig Fishbein said. “And outside storage is something that can be easily seen and addressed.”

Under the town’s current regulations, Costello, acting zoning enforcement officer, cannot fine violators of local zoning laws. Costello can cite violators and issue a cease-and-desist order if problems are ongoing. If the violator continues in non-compliance, the town’s Law Department is brought in to consider legal action. The proposed citation ordinance would allow Costello to immediately fine violators if they don’t comply with a warning letter from the town.

The idea of the ordinance is to motivate violators to comply with regulations, not to make money, said Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Jim Seichter.

“It’s really trying to get people’s attention to address things,” he said.

A fine is more of a deterrent for repeat violators, Costello said. Threatening court action often pushes violators to comply with zoning regulations, but it takes time for things to proceed to court, she said. People often fix issues just before the town takes them to court, forcing the town to drop the case, explained Corporation Counsel Janis Small. When the case is dropped, people then go back to being in violation, creating a “cat and mouse” situation, she said. A fine system would create quicker repercussions for violators of zoning regulations.

“This is supposed to be like handing out a parking ticket,” Small said.

As a result of Thursday’s meeting, Small will pass on information to the Town Council, allowing a councilor to put the ordinance up for a vote.

“I don’t mind having some teeth in the ordinance and allowing fines,” Town Councilor John Sullivan said.

Sullivan said he was only concerned about a check and balance system so that fining power can’t be abused by the zoning enforcement officer. Small said that by state law, an appeals process must be made available. The process is similar to how one might appeal a parking ticket, she explained.

The committee also talked about the possibility of giving Environmental Planner Erin O’Hare the power to fine violators of local wetland regulations. Before moving forward, Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission Chairman Jim Vitali said he would “see how the Planning and Zoning aspect goes first.” (203) 317-2224 Twitter: @Andyragz

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