Council Continues Hearings On Proposed Code Changes

Proposed town code amendments to address chronic problem properties and blight in the neighborhoods of the town pushed a hot button at last night’s Barnstable Town Council meeting.

Sixteen people stepped to the lectern to address the council on the proposals, generated by the Greater Hyannis Civic Association with the assistance of the town attorney’s office.

Following a discussion, the council decided to continue the public hearing on the changes to the council’s January 17 meeting.

Council president Frederick Chirigotis of Centerville said continuing the public hearing to January 17 will allow the council to hold one or more workshops in the interim to address concerns raised by councilors and members of the public about the code changes.

Councilor Jennifer L. Cullum of Hyannis, with the support of councilors James H. Cote of Osterville and Jessica Rapp Grassetti of Cotuit, sponsored the proposed code changes.

Laura T. Cronin of Hyannis, a member of the Greater Hyannis Civic Association, gave a presentation on the proposed changes, which are intended to address issues such as chronic problem properties, blight, noise and overcrowding.

The council opened its discussion with a public hearing on a proposed new chapter in the town code on so-called “chronic problem properties” that generate repeated police calls.

The chapter would allow the town, at the discretion of the police chief, to bill the owner of a property for police costs after the police respond to three felonies or misdemeanors at that property within a 12-month period.

Once an address is identified by the chief under the chapter as a “chronic problem property,” the town collector will be empowered to bill the property owner for police costs and deposit the money in the general fund of the town.

Unpaid bills will be added to the real estate tax.

Failure to pay real estate taxes will render the property owner delinquent and the collector will move to foreclose on the property.

At last night’s hearing, members of the public addressed not only the proposed chapter, but the other proposed code changes as well.

Hyannis resident Milton E. Berglund said an undue burden was being placed on town taxpayers by the cost of dealing with very few problem properties.

Mr. Berglund said the problem had been festering for years, and called on the town council to take action.Meg O. Loughran, president of the Centerville Civic Association, said the association supports the code changes.

Ms. Loughran said the code changes are long overdue.Hyannis resident Peter Cross said the code changes were not perfect, but represented a start to address longstanding problems. Barnstable Deputy Police Chief Craig Tamash, who addressed the council on behalf of the town police chief, Paul B. MacDonald, agreed.

But the proposed changes also drew criticism from the public.

West Barnstable resident Ronald R. Beaty said the proposed changes would stigmatize properties and deny them equal protection under the law.

Kristine P. Clark, representing the West Barnstable Civic Association, read a letter from the association that questioned aspects of several of the code changes, such as applying subjective judgments on the condition of properties.

Several town councilors said the proposed changes were too loose and needed to be tightened up.

“I would like to see these get as close to perfect as possible before we pass them,” councilor Ann B. Canedy of Barnstable Village said.

Councilor John T. Norman of Marstons Mills questioned holding landlords responsible for the actions of their tenants.

Councilor June M. Daley of Marstons Mills said agreed with Mr. Norman.

Councilor Janet S. Joakim of Centerville said the “problem property” ordinance as written could have a negative impact on the victims of domestic abuse.

Councilor Thomas Rugo of Centerville questioned moving against properties that had generated police calls, but had not yet resulted in convictions or admissions of guilt.

But councilor James M. Tinsley Jr. of Hyannis called for passing the ordinances even if they were not perfect.

“One thing about politics: nothing gets done,” Mr. Tinsley said.

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