High Grass is a Violation, Not a Right
BY ROBERT KNIGHT
ROCKLAND COUNTY TIMES
Orangetown has decided to proceed with violation notices against the owners of four residential properties in the township in which homeowners are accused of not mowing their lawns or allowing their yards to become weed gardens or otherwise unattractive to their neighborhoods.
The final list of four was narrowed down from an original list of eight such properties against which violation notices were issued by the town’s code enforcement officer, and are being supported by the Building Department.
Charges against the final four will be heard at a special public hearing by the Town Board at Town Hall in Orangeburg on Tuesday, August 28, at 8 p.m. The owners or their representatives are being invited to attend the hearing and present any evidence they may have to show why they should not be found guilty.
The Town Board will then vote on each of the four cases, deciding whether the owners are guilty or not guilty of violating Section 24C-15 of the town code. If they are found guilty, they will have a choice of either bringing their properties up to snuff themselves, within 10 days, or face a fine of $1,500. The town will then use that money to either have town employees correct the problems or hiring private landscapers to do the work.
Tax Bills Hiked
Because the town knows it will be difficult collecting the fines from the homeowners, Town Attorney John Edwards and Assessor Brain Kenny said in most cases the fee will simply be added onto the next town tax bill for each site, which is mailed out in late December and due by Jan. 31. Once it is part of the homeowners tax bill, it must be paid or it becomes a legal lien on the property, the officials said, preventing it from ever being sold until any outstanding liens are repaid.
Building Inspector John Giardiello told the council that repeated phone calls and mailings were made to the last known owners of record for all eight of the original properties on the delinquency lists, and that none had responded.
Subsequently, four of the owners did in fact contact the town and begin to make the necessary yard improvements, once their names and addresses were published in local media, including the Rockland County Times.
The four properties that were brought into compliance included 3 Villa Drive in the Nanuet section of Pearl River, 75 Mountainview Avenue in Pearl River, 41 North Moison Road in Blauvelt and 263 Orangeburg Road in Pearl River. As a result, prosecution of the owners of those lots has been dropped.
The four remaining properties in which the owners have made no effort to comply include 2 Parkway Drive in Blauvelt, 150 Howard Drive in Tappan, 26 North Troop Road in Blauvelt and 49 East Carroll Street in Pearl River.
Town officials said all four homes appeared to be vacant, and their ownership is unknown by the town. Notices mailed to the last known owners of record were all returned to the town.
Oddly, according to Giardiello, Kenny and Receiver of Taxes Robert Simon, the property taxes on all four lots are paid up to date, although they could not verify at the Town Board meeting who in fact was making the payments. Officials theorized that the taxes might not in fact be being made by the last residents, but by banks or mortgage companies, or attorneys handling deceased residents’ estates.
The council instructed the officials to try to ascertain who is actually paying the taxes, and to make sure that they are notified of the pending actions against the respective properties so they might have an opportunity to respond prior to or at the public hearing on August 28.
Edwards cautioned that even that might not work, however, because he said many mortgage holders such as banks and mortgage companies have no interest in how a property looks, they just want to protect their financial investment by making sure all taxes are kept up to date, so they don’t risk the possibility of losing the property to municipal foreclosure.
The council vote to proceed with the public hearing and the prosecution of the owners was split, four in favor and one opposed. Leading the effort to clean up the properties in any way the town can was Councilman Denis Troy, Republican of Pearl River. He called it “shameful” that homeowners would allow their properties to fall into such disrepair and neglect that neighbors had to complain to town hall, and the town was forced to take action.
Equally as vehement in the opposite direction was Councilman Paul Valentine, Republican of Blauvelt, who lambasted the move as an “overreaching invasion by government into a person’s private personal property.”
“A man’s home is his castle,” Valentine insisted, claiming government had no right to tell anyone how tall their grass can be, or what they can and can’t plant in their yard.
Despite who shows up Aug. 28 to represent the four properties, if in fact anyone does, officials are also prepared for a packed auditorium of residents who are expected to testify at the hearing for and against the town’s policy of requiring yard and lawn uniformity throughout the suburban township.
In Other Action
In other action at the Town Board’s last meeting, July 24, the council:
Heard a presentation from Blauvelt attorney Donald Brenner on behalf of his clients Mr. and Mrs. Curtis Frasca of Palisades, requesting the town to install “No Parking” signs on the south side of Closter Road in that hamlet. The Frascas live on the north side of the short road, which connects Route 9W with Oak Tree Road. Brenner said they appeared before the town’s Traffic Advisory Board in 2009 with the same appeal, and received support there but no signs were ever erected. The problem, according to Brenner, is that the land on the south side of the block is a 2.9-acre triangular town park containing a hamlet war memorial and historic flagpole. The current owner-occupant of the old Palisades Methodist Church at the corner of 9W and Closter Road, a cosmetics firm, has spread gravel on much of the park for employees and customers to park, illegally, according to Brenner and the Frascas. Brenner elicited surprised sympathy from council members, who claimed no knowledge of the years-long controversy, but Troy noted that without an official referral and recommendation from the Traffic Advisory Board, the council was powerless to act. He suggested Brenner tell his clients to get a petition signed by all the neighbors opposing the current parking, and re-submit it to the Traffic Advisory Board. If that board again agrees with the Frascas, and sends the council its recommendation, the council can then vote to install the “No Parking” signs, Troy opined.
Approved the use of nearly $100,000 in restricted funding to purchase cameras and other telecommunications equipment, and to create a virtual television studio within town hall, to enable the town to broadcast various meetings and other programs to all of its residents via their home TV sets. Currently, Orangetown televises two hours of Town Board business meetings twice a month, using volunteer camera operators staffing a single old-fashioned fixed position camera located in a corner of the board auditorium. The rest of the hours, days and weeks, the channel devoted to Orangetown is blank. A special committee recently created to improve the town’s TV capabilities reported that when the town negotiated its last franchise contracts with both Cablevision and Verizon three years ago, it won a free dedicated channel from each company, and monetary donations to the town of $50,000 from each company, for each year. So far that dedicated fund contains $240,000, according to Finance Director Charles Richardson, and not a penny has ever been spent on its intended purpose of improving town communications. Based on the committee’s recommendations, the Town Board agreed to spend $99,865 to purchase cameras and other equipment to install at Town Hall and in a mobile unit to cover remote events and activities throughout Orangetown. Live broadcasts of all Town Board, Planning Board and other agency meetings, as well as special events, athletic activities and community events can be broadcast 24/7 on the two free channels the companies have dedicated to Orangetown, the committee said. Committee members, all Orangetown residents who are volunteering their expertise and advice, include Rockland Filmmakers coordinator David Kaminsky, associate director of broadcast and distribution services for CBS David Chilson, TV editor/producer John Howard, News12 producer Anthony Geathers and local TV producers Holly and Lilly Seeger. Richardson cautioned the council that the entire $240,000 in the account was actually “borrowed” last year to pay for completion of the new town soccer fields and clubhouse on Old Orangeburg Road, so the board will now have to figure out how to replenish the account so it can be used for its originally intended purpose. The money was “borrowed”, Richardson said; because the soccer complex ran over budget and the town had nowhere else to fund the project at the time, fully intending to pay it back as quickly as possible from other revenue sources. Council members appeared somewhat surprised by the revelation, not immediately recalling such a transaction, but overcame their skepticism to unanimously approve the committee’s recommendation.
Accept a $25,000 grant from the Rockland County Community Development Consortium’s Block Grant Program to remove architectural barriers on town roads in Blauvelt and Orangeburg. Highway Superintendent James Dean said the money would be used to create handicapped accessible curb cuts at corners and at other locations along existing town sidewalks where no such curb cuts currently exist. The project will enhance the mobility and accessibility of elderly and handicapped residents to freely move about the area. Orangetown applied for funding for several projects from the consortium, but this was the only one granted this year. According to the consortium, of which Orangetown is a member along with other towns and villages and the county itself, the money must be spent on projects that improve the lives and safety of low-income residents. The only area that meets that criteria in the township is a small portion of the hamlets of Orangeburg and Blauvelt which contain a number of institutional residences such as Thorpe Village, Dowling Gardens, Camp Venture, Kathy Lukens Residence, St. Dominick’s Home, and two convents for retired and ailing Catholic nuns, among others.
The board’s next meeting is Tuesday, August 28 at 7:30 p.m., when the public hearing on the unkempt yards will be held.
The board also voted to move its scheduled meeting of Tuesday, Sept. 11 to Monday, Sept. 10, so as not to conflict with ceremonies that evening commemorating the 11th anniversary of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center twin towers in New York City. Orangetown’s public ceremony will be held at the 9/11 monument at the southeast outside corner of Town Hall, at 26 Orangeburg Road, led by the Orangetown Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association. All local residents killed in the attack will be honored by name, with the families of many attending the solemn ceremonies. Fire departments, veterans’ organizations, musicians and singers will also attend and participate, and the public is invited to attend.