ROTTERDAM -- Neighborhood complaints about conditions at a Helderberg Avenue property -- and the town's difficulty in doing anything about it -- have Rotterdam officials re-examining their building code.
The property at 2292 Helderberg Ave., almost to the Guilderland town line, has drawn complaints about clutter, and the town recently mailed the owner a notice of violation for allegedly having exposed rubbish on the property -- a prelude to potential court action.
But the clutter itself -- things visible in the small front yard of the house include agricultural trailers, outdoor equipment, garden hoses, in addition to what appears to be rubbish -- is something the town may not be able to address under current town law.
Town Supervisor Steven Tommasone said frustration is prompting the town to look at whether its building code can be made more restrictive on property maintenance issues without undermining property owners' rights.
"We want to be able to have violations properly noticed, and have the ability in court to win," Tommasone said. "That's where the challenge is, to be in position where we can do the job that residents and others expect us to do."
"At the same time, we have to be careful not to infringe on someone's right to have items on their property where, to you and I they are an eyesore, but to them it is a treasure," Tommasone said.
Tom Squires, the town's building safety officer, said a notice of violation was written for the property last week, citing the garbage as a violation of state health and safety codes. A notice of violation doesn't take the owner to court, but is a formal warning that court action could be taken if the situation isn't addressed.
"We're relying on state code, but we need to make something a little more restrictive than what is in the state," said Squires, who said he's been aware of the property since just after joining the town a year ago. Last year, he was ordered by a resident to leave the property, and he has not returned, in keeping with a town policy to avoid confrontations.
Some neighbors have questioned whether the town's enforcement effort is taking place now because of the proposed Whispering Pines senior living complex. The controversial Whispering Pines proposal, which is awaiting a final town zoning decision, would be on the Whispering Pines Golf Course property, which is in the same neighborhood. The golf course lies to the north of Helderberg Avenue, bordering the state Thruway, and is behind the row of post-World War II houses that include the property in question.
Tommasone said the violation was issued not because of Whispering Pines, but because new material had been brought to the home from another site, in Guilderland.
"What's coincidental for us is that this individual was moving more stuff to the property," Tommasone said.
County records list the property owner as Marjorie Hunt. Nobody answered the door on Thursday, and there was no response to a request for comment.
Code enforcement at that location is also complicated by the underlying zoning being agricultural, Tommasone said. Owners of agricultural land have broad authority under state law to manage it as they see fit, as long as the purpose is agricultural.
Tommasone said the Helderberg Avenue house isn't the only one town officials have received complaints about; he said there are several in Rotterdam with similar conditions. "We are going through code to see where we can be more restrictive. The biggest stumbling block is having people modify their behavior," he said.
Separately, the Town Board is in the process of seeking proposals for a private company to maintain abandoned properties in the town, Tommasone noted, so that they don't lower the value of properties around them. The town's goal would be to recover the costs from a future purchaser or bank that's holding the property.