Lincoln establishes Housing Court to enforce zoning regulations

Lincoln establishes Housing Court to enforce zoning regulations

LINCOLN – Municipal leaders in Lincoln are hoping a recently adopted ordinance will give the town more power to enforce its zoning regulations.

Adopted unanimously by the Town Council as an addition to the Code of the Town of Lincoln, the ordinance establishes a Lincoln Housing Court to enforce zoning requirements and address violations. The court has the power to demand the repair, demolition or vacation of a dwelling existing in violation, or to order the dwelling into receivership.

Town Council President Keith Macksoud said the adoption of the ordinance was precipitated by a number of problem properties across town, including one on Southwick Drive that has been in and out of court for decades facing various zoning violations.

Zoning Official Russell Hervieux said it’s nearly impossible to enforce the town’s zoning laws there because the property owner will comply with a court mandate only so far as deemed necessary in order to be considered in compliance.

“The property owner cleans up just enough to get him out of trouble, then starts all over again,” Hervieux said. “My hope is that, since we’ve gone the court route and it hasn’t worked, that the town solicitor can use this property as the first to have receivership applied to it. If not, we have to go back to court.”

Hervieux said the courts are historically lenient to property owners, and that the town has been spending money in court for more than two decades to get the Southwick Drive lot cleared of dumpsters, debris and unregistered cars. “We’ve issued many citations,” he said. “The owner does the bare minimum to comply.”

A nearby neighbor recently wrote to The Breeze expressing frustration with the town’s inability to enforce its zoning regulations, pointing to the Southwick Drive home as an example.

“In an RS40-zoned section of Limerock, a non-owner-occupied property is allowed by default to store unregistered cars, piles of worn-out tires, 20-yard construction dumpsters used for a business, questionable sewer exposure, some of the buildings are in imminent danger of collapse…these are just a few of the obvious violations,” wrote Gabe Imondi.

“As long as the owner met the decision of the court there was nothing else we could do,” Macksoud said, noting that the town doesn’t have the authority to enter the property and can only assess it from the street.

There have been other problematic properties across town that have stoked frustration from officials attempting to enforce regulations, including one on Grove Street that came before the court multiple times.

“Our main point was not to single out a certain property, but we felt we needed the ability to have stricter, faster enforcement of our current zoning laws,” Macksoud said.

Now, when a housing issue comes up, it can be referred directly to the Housing Court rather than Municipal Court. The Housing Court has been given the authority to appoint a receiver, which Lincoln’s Municipal Court cannot. The same judge will likely preside over both courts.

“We’re not trying to create a new bureaucracy, we’re just trying to give our judge another tool in the toolbox,” said Councilman Arthur Russo. “If there is a property in such disrepair that the town needs to act quickly, they can now appoint a receiver.”

Russo said he anticipates that the “tool” will be used in future cases. When a home was collapsing on Lakeview Road a few years ago, he said the town could have implemented that tool were it available.

Comments

There are other zoning violations other than residential that need to be enforced. One is the use of illegal flag banner signs.