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August 21, 2013

Candidates Promise Housing Reform


By Kitty Merrill

Quality of life issues in Springs, especially those to do with overcrowded housing, are a focus for candidates on the stump this election season. This week those running on the Democratic line for town board -- Larry Cantwell (supervisor) and Job Potter and Kathee Burke-Gonzalez (town council) -- sent a mailing to residents of the hamlet outlining an eight-point plan to relieve overcrowding in Springs.

The points listed include creating an interagency working group comprised of representatives from the police department, code enforcement, fire marshal's office, building department and town attorney's office to focus on residential code violations, reorganizing the town building department and appointing a chief building inspector, and hiring a new code enforcement officer with investigative skills who would specialize in residential zoning.

The candidates say they would also amend the town code to require that allowable bedrooms and bathrooms be listed on the Certificate of Occupancy, define the number of cars and number and size of commercial trucks permitted on residential property, and increase the fines for zoning violations to the limit permitted by state law. Finally, they would engage a fully-staffed legal department that provides sound, independent guidance and use Community Preservation Fund money to buy up small, vacant lots to reduce density.

The glossy mailer is adorned with a bucolic landscape photo and the statement "A well-run community that serves its citizens and effectively enforces its laws." Making reference to a community "listen-in" held earlier this spring, the mailing is headlined "Springs Spoke, We Listened."

As incumbent elected officials Republicans running for town board seats (Cantwell is unopposed) have been listening to quality of life complaints from Springs residents for years – Councilman Dominick Stanzione has heard them from the dais, and Fred Overton has heard them from the town clerk's seat.

The pair released their ideas for addressing overcrowding earlier this spring.

"Effective enforcement of existing law can make a big difference," the two wrote, listing "additional code enforcement capability" as a priority. They called for additional capacity "laser-focused" on housing in Springs.

Like their opponents, Stanzione and Overton also support increasing fines substantially. They take the notion a step further and even suggest increasing property taxes for repeat housing code violators. "Landlords must be held responsible," the candidates said.

The development of a comprehensive educational and communications program would ensure occupancy regulations are more easily understood and "common knowledge," Overton and Stanzione theorized.

Although attempts by prior administrations to enact a rental registry law met with opposition from the public, the two GOP candidates support a registry that "reasonably protects tenants, property owners and communities." Finally, the pair will consider additional occupancy, safety and enforcement regulations, if necessary to provide local courts with needed tools and support longer-term regional transportation options.

Board watcher David Buda has been a relentless voice calling for action on quality of life problems in Springs. In a mass email providing both sets of candidate platforms he asked rhetorical question: If every candidate is on board the same bus, "Why is it still so difficult to get the current town board to actually do anything concrete and meaningful to eliminate overcrowded, unlawful houses and to eradicate commercial businesses operating in residential zones?"

kmerrill@indyeastend.com

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