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Code enforcement vital in saving neighborhoods
Even small property improvements can add up to a better community, conference is told
By KENNETH AARON, Staff writer
First published: Sunday, November 21, 2004


ALBANY -- Fixing up vacant properties, cleaning unsightly lawns and making sure residents obey rules about property maintenance might not be too exciting -- but it can keep neighborhoods from eroding.

"It can have as dramatic an effect on your community as a good police department," said Timothy Dexter, director of code enforcement in Beacon, Dutchess County.

The fifth annual Neighborhoods Work conference, held at the First Lutheran Church on State Street, drew about 70, including elected officials, municipal workers and members of more than a dozen neighborhood associations. The free event was sponsored by the Neighborhood Resource Center and the Council of Albany Neighborhood Associations. After the first panel on code enforcement, another was held on zoning issues.

"To see this many people wanting to talk about code enforcement and zoning on a Saturday morning is pretty exciting to me," said Andy Brick, attorney for the town of Rotterdam.

The dire situation at the Wellington Hotel on State Street, whose crumbling edifice is costing its owner $17,000 a day in fines and has already cost the city $500,000 since its condition became evident in August, has put enforcement issues front and center.

But while the city is handling the high-profile situations, Beverly Padgett, a Third Street resident, said many smaller problems in poor neighborhoods are ignored.

"Bricks are jumping off buildings as if they're trying to seek rehabilitation themselves," said Padgett, who is with the Arbor Hill Neighborhood Association.

While part of the problem is a lack of resources -- something that Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings said forces the city to prioritize what it needs to tackle -- another major hurdle is absentee property owners.

Valerie Scott, director of the city's Division of Building & Codes, said simply tracking down owners of vacant buildings could be a daunting task.

Common Council President Helen Desfosses said the council had put money in next year's budget for an extra code enforcement officer and office worker. The budget is expected to pass at Monday's meeting, she said.

"Code enforcement is literally where the rubber meets the road," she said.

Gene Solan, chairman of the Neighborhood Resource Center, said that as out-of-town investors buy Albany rental units, it is important to educate them about the need to keep up their properties. Because while most of the investors are earnest, a few might not be.

In Beacon, Dutchess County, officials have made code enforcement a priority. Dexter was on hand to discuss some of the mechanisms that a community uses, including a law that bars residents from getting any kind of city permit if they have unpaid fines on properties they own.

Enforcement can be tricky to implement at first -- in 1989, when Beacon began getting serious -- "people were insulted we were actually enforcing the code," he said.

Saturday's event was dedicated to the memory of Elfrieda Textores, who died last week at 73. The neighborhood advocate, who lived in the same Third Avenue home all her life, fought long and hard to arrest the South End's slide.

"She will be deeply missed, not only in her own neighborhood, but throughout the city," Solan said. Aaron can be reached at 454-5515 or by e-mail at