Smithfield council targets blight

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SMITHFIELD — The Smithfield Town Council last week launched an offensive against dilapidated buildings and used tires.

The council adopted two ordinances — one that aims to keep vacant commercial buildings from looking vacant and another that keeps used tires out of sight.

Town staff had wanted owners to register their buildings within 30 days of vacating them and to pay a $15 registration fee. The council stretched 30 days to 90 and scrapped the fee.

“I’m in favor of removing the fee,” Councilman David Barbour said. “No fee is important to me.”

Broadly speaking, the ordinance on commercial buildings seeks “to preserve the character and integrity” of the town’s commercial districts and “to protect property values, promote tourism and to contribute” to Smithfield’s general welfare.

Specifically, the ordinance says building exteriors, yards, decks, porches, windows and doors “shall be maintained in a way that does not exhibit evidence of vacancy.” Also, the ordinance requires building owners to repair any evidence of rot and to keep all windows and doors locked.

Finally, the ordinance requires owners to repair broken windows, and it bars them from boarding up windows on the basement, first and second levels of buildings. Town Manager Michael Scott explained that provision, saying boards covering windows can be easy to remove.

The ordinance passed, but some council members were clearly uneasy with it. “This is just more red tape for them to have to deal with,” Councilman Travis Scott said of building owners.

But the town has an obligation to hold owners accountable for the upkeep of their buildings, Councilman David Stevens said. “This is going to keep the onus on them,” he said.

Council members had fewer reservations about the ordinance governing used and scrap tires.

In short, the ordinance requires tire stores, auto-repair shops and the like to screen used and scrap tires from public view, and it gives a couple of them options for doing so. Such tires may be stored:

• On racks or neatly stacked but not more than 10 feet high.

• In a roll-off front-load Dumpster or other metal storage container.

Also, scrap tires must be shielded from rainwater, and outdoor storage areas must be screened.

“The purpose of this is to have a standard,” Town Attorney Bob Spence Jr. said of the ordinance.

Councilman Stevens called it a good thing. “It just keeps everybody in line,” he said.