Task force eyed to address nuisance properties in city

The Cranston Herald ·

Creation of a new task force focused on addressing nuisance properties in the city has been proposed, although the exact parameters of the plan remain subject to discussion.

Ward 1 Councilwoman Lammis Vargas submitted the proposal, which would amend a section of the city’s code entitled “Housing Standards” to update existing language that provides for such a committee.

During the Feb. 14 meeting of the council’s Ordinance Committee, she requested the matter be continued to allow for further talks with the administration, the city solicitor’s office and police and fire officials.

“I’m not introducing this to be an income generator. I’m not introducing this to keep directors behind the desk at all times, and I’m certainly not introducing this to create any type of conflict among neighbors…the objective of this is to create a public list of bad apples, bad properties, and have the toolbox of policy solutions and a public meeting process for addressing each nuisance property,” Vargas said.

She later added, “I want to make sure that we don’t rush this, that we can work together in a bipartisan effort.”

Vargas’ amendment would rename the existing public nuisance task force – which is not active – as the Cranston nuisance task force. As currently constituted, the amendment adds significant detail regarding the task force’s mission and processes.

Perhaps most notably, the amendment would “create a public, internet-based system to document, track and report on nuisance properties.” It also calls for the task force to meet monthly and be chaired by the director of building inspections.

“The primary mission of the task force shall be on properties that present ongoing, chronic code violations and numerous calls for police, fire or emergency service,” the amendment states.

Vargas cited the circumstances surrounding the vacant property at 213 Armington Ave. – which has been empty for several years and has deteriorated significantly – as representative of the kind of situation on which the task force would focus. She also pointed to similar task forces that have been established in Central Falls and other communities as having provided a model for her proposal.

Daniel Parrillo, the city’s director of administration, raised concerns over the internet-based system, noting that Mayor Allan Fung recently vetoed a similar proposal.

“Just on the face, I believe it may be overburdensome on our resources, on our staffing…I think it’s a great idea, I’m looking forward to further discussion, but on its face right now I think it needs more work,” he said regarding the proposal as a whole.

Assistant City Solicitor John Verdecchia said he has “several concerns” with the amendment as written. He specifically cited concerns over provisions he believes may put landlords in a difficult position – faced with the choice of infringing upon a tenant’s rights or violating the city’s ordinances.

“There’s a more effective way, I think, of dealing with these nuisance properties,” he said.

Council President Michael Farina said he believes creating the new task force is a “good idea,” but he also agreed that further discussion is needed.

Robert Weber, assistant city solicitor in Central Falls, spoke on behalf of Vargas’ proposal. He serves as executive director of that city’s Nuisance Properties Task Force.

“We sit down with property owners, not with the goal of going to court, not with the goal of coming down with a hammer on people…The goal of the task force is for everyone to come together,” he said.

Weber said the Central Falls task force has “had a lot of success.” He estimated that the city’s list of nuisance properties has been reduced from roughly 100 to approximately 50, while the number of abandoned, boarded-up homes has been reduced from roughly 40 to as few as two.

Ron Van Ness-Otunnu, a resident of Armington Avenue, spoke about the same property that Vargas cited while expressing support for the creation of the task force.

“We need a coordination of efforts by different entities…to solve this problem,” he said. “There has to be a remedy that has bite or teeth, and I do not think we currently have that enforcement.”

Citywide Councilman Ken Hopkins said he has dealt with and seen several other such properties in the city.

“I can sense your frustration, sir…I’m frustrated with this as well,” he told Van Ness-Otunnu.