Andover Townsman, Andover, MA


February 2, 2012

Editorial: Town not willing to get hands dirty on blight

Andover homeowners living next to severely blighted properties, you are on your own. If a neighbor turns their property into what looks like a trash dump, don't expect the town to do much to protect your greatest investment, the value of your home.

Knowing this, after more than a decade of seeing a neighbor's messy property deteriorate, Kirkland Drive residents sought an anti-blight law in 2008 that would have addressed residential properties that contain infestations, aren't maintained or have fire hazards. The law said "all premises shall be kept free of collected water, or the accumulations of filth, garbage, junk, waste, rubbish, refuse, trash or any other noxious or offensive materials or substances which may cause a fire hazard or act as a breeding place or provide a refuge for animals, vermin or insects."

Selectmen said blight is too difficult to define, and, since many such properties are owned by compulsive hoarders, a law was unlikely to have much effect. Prior to Annual Town Meeting, selectmen recommended that residents reject the idea. Instead, selectmen instructed the town's attorney to write a memo about how residents could sue neighbors over blight themselves. The bylaw was not approved.

In September 2008 the town health department sent a letter to Andover condominium owner Susan Odle, saying she had five violations of the state's sanitary code, under minimum standards of "fitness and human habitation." The letter ordered Odle to have an interior inspection within 24 hours. By August 2010, two years later, no action had been taken. Condo neighbors asked selectmen to do something in 2010, but Town Counsel Tom Urbelis said the condo association bylaws allow trustees to address issues such as this. Selectmen again took no action, leaving residents to address the issue themselves. They did, through the courts. and in December 2011, Odle's condo was condemned. But Health Director Tom Carbone said this week, it appears Odle simply took the items that filled her condo and dumped all the trash bags onto the front lawn of another property she owns on Osgood Street.

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