Marion residents reject vacant properties bylaw

May 15, 2019

MARION — At a second night of Town Meeting on May 14 voters rejected only one article, a proposed bylaw that would have toughened Marion’s policy on vacant properties.

Selectman John Waterman proposed the new bylaw for both safety and aesthetic reasons.

The regulations would have given the building commissioner the ability to inspect buildings vacant six months or more, find the property owners, come up with a plan to improve the property and issue fines of $100 a day if that plan is not followed. 

Marion’s town counsel said that the bylaw is similar to other bylaws in other municipalities and not a new idea.

Barry Gaffey  pointed out that the six month vacancy period would also impact summer cottages. 

“Six months is not a long time for summer residents,” Gaffey said. He also urged voters to consider the elderly, who may have a hard time maintaining their houses to strict aesthetic standards. 

Gaffey made a motion to table the bylaw, but that motion failed, 49 to  56.

“I understand what is proposed, but it seems like there could be unintended consequences,” Christina Richards said. “It seems very arbitrary and goes far outside the scope of the issue. These type of issues can be ironed out.”

Caitlin Mahoney also considered the bylaw broad-reaching and thought it gave a lot of control and decision making to a particular person.

She said that when she was on the ZBA, members struggled with the idea of vacant. “If someone comes home for a week and leaves again does that mean the lot is vacant?” she questioned. 

“To me it feels like big brother’s watching me. This, to me, is way overreaching if what we want is a safe, acceptable piece of land,” Mahoney also said.

Another commenter added that “The town is scratching its head about Town Clerk right now. When we give the power to town officials we want to make sure that it’s not too much and that there are checks and balances.”