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Port Chester Considers Amnesty Program to Go with a New Comprehensive Plan

Property owners could possibly avoid fines for illegal changes if they worked with Port Chester; no time frame or length of the Amnesty Period has been decided yet.

The new , which was positively recommended by the Port Chester Planning Commission, is now working its way through the . An Amnesty Program is also in the works to give an incentive for people in violation of village zoning codes. This program will allow fees and penalties to be reduced or waived in return for coming forward and working with the village.

In order to work in its desired fashion, the Comprehensive Plan will be coupled with a number of zoning changes. Some of the areas currently listed for multi-family houses will be rezoned as single family. This has many in Port Chester concerned.

Any multi-family homes in these rezoning areas that are legal multi-family structures will be allowed to continue their status despite the zone change. They will be recognized as “legal non-conforming” houses.

There are many homes in Port Chester that have been added on to over the years or have had their structures tweaked to accommodate more residents. Some of these updates have been done legally, others have not.

Along with the new Comprehensive Plan and zoning amendments, there will be stricter enforcement of the village’s zoning code enforcement.

“We brought in (Code Enforcement Director Christopher Steers) three years ago to tackle code enforcement,” said Mayor Dennis Pilla. “Code enforcement has been such an issue of trouble and is something that has been long neglected in Port Chester, from what I can tell, for decades. We need a soft landing for some.  An amnesty program of preexisting structures can provide that.”

The amnesty program would give incentives for people who may currently be in violation of zoning codes to come forward and proactively work with the village to become a conforming residence.

The proposed amnesty program includes the following:

  • All administrative fees for construction activities without a building permit (i.e. fee of $250 or three times the permit fee) are hereby waived
  • For work completed prior to the effective date of the 1975 Zoning Regulation:
  1. Building permit fees shall be reduced by 50 percent. Zoning application fees shall be waived.
  2. Planning application fees may be waived or reduced by 50 percent depending upon the nature of the application at the discretion of the Village Manager or his designee.
  • This shall apply to all building, planning, and zoning applications submitted in conjunction with and under the auspices of the Permit Amnesty program within the Amnesty Period intended to correct the targeted violations.

“Our residents and property owners have to become partners with us in solving the problem. We are willing to give in if they are willing to give in.”

Voluntary participation is the core idea of the Amnesty Program. Any applicants and/or their properties that have been cited for or are currently under enforcement action are not eligible for the Amnesty Program.

“So in other words, if we got you it’s too late,” said Pilla.

The proposed Amnesty Period is from Sept. 4, 2012 – March 29, 2013. However, board members disagreed on the length of the Amnesty period. Mayor Pilla stated that it could take time for the word to get around and for people to respond while Trustee Brakewood wondered why it would take a person so long to decide if they would take advantage of the program.

No time frame or length of the Amnesty Period has been decided yet. 

George Datino August 08, 2012 at 10:29 AM
Just to be clear, the program wouldn't simply make what is currently illegal at a property legal? For example, if someone put in an illegal basement or attic apartment (I know that is hard to believe), coming forward wouldn't make it legal? Simply, any fines would be waived and the person would have to work with the village to either make it legal or get rid of it? I would suggest that part of the program be that a shift from simply compliance theme to a more punitive fine structure take affect after the program has ended for these violations. It would help with the incentive for people to come forward and also help bring in more income to pay for the effort the village has to undertake for compliance/overcrowding issues. This income can help the village serve the people better.
JJ August 08, 2012 at 11:52 AM
Port Chester NEVER does anything without a reason so I ask who will this program really benefit? I'd like to see an investigative report that utilizes Public Records to identify these "non-compliant" residences. Then I'd like to see who ACTUALLY purchased and owns those residences. It's ALL public records and seems like a nice project for a forthright news agency. That's the real story here.
Aidan August 08, 2012 at 12:23 PM
Here we go again. Same issue all the time. The villagers have been screaming about this issue for years ... and still there's lead feet all around. It is THE number one issue. But it does NOT get "Number One" attention. It takes guts to put this out as a major issue. And even more guts to do something about it for once. This isn't news to anyone in local government. But excuses are a dime a dozen ... and little ever gets done. We are own worst enemy.
FJT August 08, 2012 at 01:17 PM
One angle on a news story has to do with why the village is dragging condo owners into its attempt to clean up multi-family home violations by slumlords. In my condo building, the building's C of O and the C of O for every unit in the building have recently (and suddenly) been declared null and void. Now no one can sell their unit or refi it without going hat in hand to the Building Department to request an inspection and a brand new C of O. My research shows that a longstanding C of O can be revoked only IF there is sufficient knowledge of a violation, and the property owner must be given his/her day in court to dispute the revocation. In other words, there must be "cause" for revoking it. What the village has done amounts to a property grab and worse. We're now all guilty and must prove our innocence by allowing inspectors into our homes to see whether we have violated the law. How can one even begin to justify this sort of action, especially as it pertains to condo owners? (Condo owners are not PC's slumlords.) So, why is this happening? I can tell you that I was asked to pay a fee of $200 just to see the file on my building when I went to the Building Department a couple of weeks ago. This is wrong and heaps further scorn on a department that -- with its embarassing past (to put it politely) -- should be very concerned about the ethics and legality of its actions.
Bart Didden August 08, 2012 at 08:51 PM
So much stuff to answer, but here goes - George, I have been persistent in that the sign up period be defined and not extended once the program starts. I also have no intention to extend the plan and for those who don't register within the window will not qualify for reduced fees or fines for total compliance. JJ, the reason is to put confidence back into our real estate so prices can raise. FJT - You were offered a 200.00 fee for an expedited search (10 days) for your file. You could pay the simple fee of 35.00 and wait as long as two or three months. We are not dragging condo owners in, we are excluding no one and since you are one of the 6000, you are in. As for condo owners are not slumlords, do you infer that I am with my one family home, because I am not in a condo? I understand why your bitter and I am working with the BOT to make things better, for everyone. Aidan, as most times you are correct on much of what you write. I started calling for an amnesty program a year ago, but it was sidetracked mostly by the Mayor because it was my plan. Sam, Joe & I have the "guts" and more, we just need a majority. Are you interested in running with us next March? Become part of the solution.
FJT October 25, 2012 at 03:13 PM
Bart, in your comment above, you wrote: "We are not dragging condo owners in, we are excluding no one and since you are one of the 6000, you are in." Just so I'm clear, has the village pulled the CO of every homeowner in Port Chester? If so, that's major news because a homeowner can't sell, can't refinance, can't rent out and can't even legally live in their own house until he or she gets a new CO. Please tell me whether every homeowner in PC has had his or her CO pulled. In all the coverage of re-zoning, amnesty, COs, etc., I don't think the vitally important question I'm asking has been definitively answered.
FJT October 27, 2012 at 03:26 AM
I WILL TRY ASKING YOU AGAIN... Bart, in your comment above, you wrote: "We are not dragging condo owners in, we are excluding no one and since you are one of the 6000, you are in." Just so I'm clear, has the village pulled the CO of every homeowner in Port Chester? If so, that's major news because a homeowner can't sell, can't refinance, can't rent out and can't even legally live in their own house until he or she gets a new CO. Please tell me whether every homeowner in PC has had his or her CO pulled. In all the coverage of re-zoning, amnesty, COs, etc., I don't think the vitally important question I'm asking has been definitively answered.

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