UPPER TOWNSHIP — Township Committee re-introduced a residential property maintenance ordinance Monday, including revisions recommended by residents and others suggested by township attorney Daniel Young.
A public hearing on the revised ordinance and final vote are planned for the Aug. 13 meeting, starting at 7:30 p.m. at Township Hall at 2100 Tuckahoe Road.
The ordinance as originally proposed proved deeply unpopular. It had been introduced in May but tabled at the June 25 meeting, when several residents criticized the ordinance as going too far.
In one example, residents who work on antique cars took issue with a proposed limit of one unregistered car allowed on a property, a move township officials described as necessary to keep some property owners from storing dilapidated vehicles in the front of their property.
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In the amended ordinance introduced Monday, up to three unregistered vehicles are allowed, if kept out of sight in the back of the property and part of an ongoing restoration project.
Even before residents brought up their concerns at the June 25 meeting, Young had proposed several amendments, including changes he said were significant enough that the ordinance would need to be advertised again before a final vote.
Among his proposed changes, included in the new version, was the elimination of occupancy limits he said did not fit the character of the township.
Another change enacted at the request of residents allowed RVs and other kinds of campers to be hooked up to electricity while on a residential property, as long as no one was living in the vehicle.
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Several residents who spoke June 25 were back Monday, including Mark Schuler, who brought up several issues with language contained in the ordinance. For instance, the ordinance indicates the township may take action if a wall or structure is dangerous or may become dangerous.
“I assure you, everybody’s home in this world may become dangerous. Why is that word there?” Schuler asked. “If it is dangerous, sure, write them a violation.”
Young said that wording was taken directly from the state statute. He added that before any action could take place, the owner would receive notice and be given a chance to correct the problem, the issue would come before Township Committee, and the owner would have the right to appeal.
Schuler said he was not concerned about what current township officials might do with the ordinance, saying he knew all of the committee members. He said years in the future, the ordinance could give broad powers to less ethical officials.
“Some of the wording that’s in here allows them to get pretty carried away with what they could do,” he said. “Like, they can violate you for having some bottlecaps in your yard because shoobies throw it out the window on their way down the highway.”
He also suggested the ordinance could conceivably keep him from composting, because it includes grass clippings in the definition of litter, along with bottle caps, pull tabs and other items.
“Those things are already in our ordinance,” added Paul Dietrich, the township engineer.
According to Young, the ordinance defines “litter” so it can be upheld in future court cases, but that does not mean residents are not allowed to have grass clippings on their property. Committee members said if someone were to dump their leaves or grass clippings on someone else’s property, that would count as litter.
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During the public comment portion of the meeting, several residents spoke on the ordinance and code enforcement, some saying enforcement went too far, others not far enough. One resident said he had been cited several times for the same issue, and each time it was thrown out of court. Another said her complaints about conditions on her neighbor’s property went unaddressed.
Some of the issues raised were already part of the township code and state law, Young said. For instance, some residents were particularly concerned with a portion of the ordinance that indicates the code enforcement officer had the right to inspect any property, after showing identification.
Mayor Richard Palombo said township officials would be reasonable in enforcement, saying, “I don’t want to use the word ‘Gestapo’…”
“That’s the word I’d use,” interjected Peter Schuler.
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Palombo continued, “We’re not trying to be that kind of state, where we’d take away anybody’s freedom.”
But at some point, rights give way when they impinge on the rights of others or on safety, Young said. He gave an example of a resident he described as not rational living in a clearly unsafe structure. The township could not leave that person in that situation. Officials worked with the family and the individual to get the person into a safe living situation, and eventually demolished the structure.
Common sense has to be part of the equation, Palombo said.