Derry officials discuss building decay downtown
By HUNTER McGEE
Union Leader Correspondent
December 05. 2013 7:28PM
— Town Councilors and Planning Board members focused on ways to address vacant downtown properties and strengthen code enforcement ordinances during a joint workshop on Tuesday night.
The two groups met after the regular council meeting and spent a portion of the approximately two-hour discussion dealing with the downtown area, where some vacant properties stand.
The discussion also included such topics as the vision for Route 28 and potential areas of development.
Some of the downtown buildings have sat vacant for years and become potential health hazards, said Planning Board member Jim MacEachern.
"And right now, they are pigeon coops," MacEachern said.
In some cases, there are areas of the downtown where portions of a vacant building have already been condemned by the town. He suggested that the town consider crafting an ordinance that could address a property with condemned portions when it reaches a certain ratio.
For instance, if the building has three floors and two have already been condemned, property owners would be required to either renovate the property or knock it down, he said.
"You can be firm but fair," MacEachern said.
Code Enforcement Officer Robert Mackey said it isn't always clear when buildings are considered blighted.
"Just because it's vacant doesn't necessarily mean it's blighted," Mackey said.
The former Broadway Pets business was mentioned by members of both groups as a property that has been neglected and sat vacant for too long.
To help strengthen code enforcement ordinances, Mackey suggested examining a previously proposed blight ordinance and possibly adding certain language to existing ordinances. For instance, if there was overgrowth on a property, language could be inserted that would set a height limit for grass.
The discussion then addressed code enforcement and ways of helping improve the operation. Along with Mackey's full-time position, there is only a part-time worker on hand to help out, Mackey said.
"So, there are some limitations of getting stuff done necessarily as quickly as I'd like to," Mackey said.
Councilor Al Dimmock said Mackey should "be brave" and asked the council to replace the part-time position with a full-time staff member.
Mackey said there is enough work now to keep a full-time employee busy.
Councilors and Planning Board members said that the workshop had been productive. At the close of the meeting, Planning Board Chairman David Granese said councilors can contact the board any time if they have a question or concern.
"If the town council sees anything you want us to look at, please let us know," Granese said.
And rather than limiting meetings to once a year, Councilor Neil Wetherbee suggested the two groups can meet more often during the year if necessary.