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Metuchen cracks down on vacant properties

By KATHY CHANG
Staff Writer

METUCHEN — More than 100 summonses have been issued as borough officials have begun to crack down on residential and commercial properties that are vacant and unmaintained in the borough.

With a push last year, the Borough Council enacted a vacant property registration ordinance in response to a petition to do something about empty storefronts on Main Street.

“We have gotten more vigilant,” said Mayor Peter Cammarano of the ordinance. “Property maintenance issues are handled through code enforcement, zoning.”

Business Administrator Jennifer Maier at a recent council meeting explained that they checked out all the properties they discerned were vacant, which involved simply peering into window fronts to see if they were occupied.

For residential properties, Maier said they would look for foreclosure notices and/or anything that comes into their offices, for example, a complaint from a neighbor.

As of May, 32 residential and 27 commercial properties were identified as vacant. Eleven of the 27 commercial properties had been vacant for six-plus months, officials said.

Maier said in some cases, waivers were requested, and in other cases they were working with any properties that were going through a change of ownership.

The 32 residential properties identified were single-family units. “Twenty-two of those were vacant six-plus months,” Maier said, noting that 17 of those property owners have already registered with the borough.

Pursuant to the ordinance, an owner of any vacant property or vacant storefront within 30 calendar days after the building becomes vacant or within 30 calendar days after assuming ownership of the vacant property/storefront or within 10 calendar days of receipt of notice by the municipality, must file a registration statement for each vacant property or storefront with the zoning officer.

The initial registration fee for vacant properties is $500 and is prorated through Dec. 31 if received less than 10 months prior to that date.

The first renewal registration fee is $1,500, a second renewal is $3,000 and subsequent renewals are $5,000, according to the ordinance.

The owner of the property is required to renew the registration annually, every Jan. 1, as long as the building remains a vacant property or vacant storefront.

Any person who violates the ordinance can be fined not less than $100 and not more than $2,000 for each offense, according to the ordinance.

The owner of the property can notify the borough clerk within 30 days of any change in the registration information by filing an updated form.

Maier assured residents, who have come to several council meetings in May and June voicing their concerns about vacant and unmaintained properties, that borough officials are working on the vacant property issues.

“If [the property owners] do not pay, they will have to come to court,” she said adding that Chris Consenza, zoning officer for the borough, follows up on all of the registered properties.

Cammarano said they will continue working on the ordinance to put more teeth into it as they go on.

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