Residents finally getting some action on Ridgefield Meadows blemish

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:52

Warwick — Residents of Sheffield Drive in the Village of Warwick have something to be happy about. Finally. After nearly two and a half years of meetings and polite requests, the residents are getting some action from the village to clean up a property that has sat vacant since May 2003. The decision came Monday night, according to Mayor Michael Newhard, to contract with a landscaper and clean up the property. "We are moving ahead with cleaning it up," said Newhard. "Our lawyer looked at the laws - there are different ones for maintenance, fire codes, etc. - and the law gives us the ability to go in there, clean it up and put the cost on their tax bill." It started with a fast spreading fire in the house on the corner of Sheffield Drive in May 2003. No one was home at the time except for the family's pets. It took no time for the newly built house to be destroyed. What is left is a large foundation. The owners, Dawn and James K. Martin, lost their home and all of their belongings. Then, nothing happened. Inspections were done by the insurance company. The debris was cleaned up, but then the property just sat. The only evidence that a house once stood there is the paved driveway and the large, concrete foundation, which is well-hidden by the overgrown weeds on the rest of the corner property. It is certainly an eyesore, the neighbors say. But some feel it is also a danger. "We have lots of kids in the community who play around here," said one neighbor who did not wish to be identified. "You don't want someone to fall into that foundation." The neighbor said the village has issued at least four subpoenas to the owners, all of which resulted in no changes to the property and no charges to the owners. During the winter, snow remained on the sidewalks yet no fines were issued. Many of the neighbors in the Ridgefield Meadows area have talked to the village about the situation almost since it existed and are in the process of putting together a petition. Yet, not much more was done these past two plus years other than trimming the weeds close to the curb. Although they were frustrated as time went by, the village's hands were tied, Newhard said, because the owners had paid their taxes on the property all along. "We are doing everything legally that we can," said Newhard. "There are property rights to be considered. The mortgage and taxes are paid. Our lawyer had to make sure we did everything the right way." The village could not condemn the property, Newhard added, because the foundation itself was structurally sound. This week, Michael Meth, the village's attorney, determined that the village could go onto the property and pass the cost onto the landowners, without the village having to foot the bill. Newhard said the village will notify the homeowners by mail and through notices in the local papers. Then, it will contract with a landscaper after getting three estimates and clean up the property. This way the foundation will be visible with less a chance of someone falling into it, he added. The village will also use plywood to block entry ways to the foundation and possibly post signs. The clean-up should begin within about 10 days, according to Newhard. "I respect the mayor and I know his hands are tied on some things," said one neighbor. "I'm happy we got the ball rolling. It's a shame we had to wait almost two and a half years for it, but I'm happy this is finally getting done."