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Enforcement Ordinance Is Approved at Town Meeting

A new town ordinance that will allow the zoning or wetlands enforcement officer to levy fines for land use violations passed at a special town meeting on Oct. 23. The meeting was attended by about 50 Norfolk residents, and the vote was unanimously in favor.

The measure is intended mainly as a tool to bring stubborn and defiant noncompliers into line with community standards, according to Glenn Chalder, a town planner and consultant to Norfolk, and it is meant to do so without the expense of a long legal battle. Before fines can start to accrue, however, there are many opportunities for the landowner to contest the finding of violation or set up a schedule for eventual compliance.

“The main point of this ordinance is to encourage compliance,” said Chalder. “This is not about punishment.”

Creating a series of due process safeguards, the ordinance calls for the first selectman to appoint a citations hearing officer. The person can have no affiliation with town government. “It should probably be someone with a legal or paralegal background,” said Chalder, “and, I would hope, a respected member of the community.” To protect the landowner from arbitrary or unfair treatment, the hearing officer has wide discretion to overturn earlier rulings in the case.

In a remarkable display of small-town democracy in action, a town resident attending the meeting, Michael Sconyers, brought forward an objection to the ordinance as written. There should be language in it, argued Sconyers, that informs the landowner up front that he can appeal the finding of violation in Superior Court at any time.

Working quickly, Richard Byrne, the meeting’s moderator, established the wording of such a provision and its placement in the ordinance. He then called for a vote on the amendment, which passed, and it was the amended ordinance that was presented for a vote.

Helping to sway public sentiment was a letter from landowner David Donihue, who told the cautionary tale of his neighbors on Winchester Road deciding to open a granite quarry on their front lawn. Heavy equipment rolled in and out even on weekends and at night. The noise and activity reduced his house’s value by about 50 percent, according to a realtor. And the town was powerless to remedy the situation, which dragged on for years.

“The regulations are intended as a basic set of rules to preserve the quality of life in the community,” said Chalder, “and no one should get special treatment.”

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