AMHERST - Amherst is asking its lawyer if it has the authority to determine just what is an unsightly premises beyond the scope of the Municipal Government Act.
"Our unsightly premises committee acts in accordance with the Municipal Government Act that sets the parameters for what is an unsightly premises. Some of it's very obvious, but there are some areas that are rather vague," town councillor and committee chair Robert Bird said Thursday.
While almost all Amherst properties are in compliance with the MGA when it comes to dangerous or unsightly premises, Bird said the town regularly receives complaints from residents and each complaint is investigated.
Most complaints are maintenance issues such as the grass being too long, paint flaking or the presence of junk or garbage. However, Bird admitted, there are complaints that are not easily addressed.
"We want to define within the confines of the MGA what the rules are for Amherst as to exterior uniformity," Bird said.
Bird's committee has been dealing with a complaint on Park Street, where a neighbour complained about the colour scheme of a house in that area. Personally, Bird finds the property unsightly, but under the Municipal Government Act there's little the town can do.
"The siding is properly installed and the paint is not flaking or peeling. The grass is being mowed and there's no derelict junk on the property," Bird said. "Is it ugly? To me, yes, but by the rules we have to comply with there's nothing we can do."
Council spent considerable time discussing the matter behind closed doors earlier this week during an in-camera session at which time it opted to seek legal advice on what it's options are.
Part of the problem, he said, is that precedent has already been set in Halifax a couple of years ago when a property owner, upset he could not get a development permit, repainted several properties using different colours for each piece of siding. Bird said Halifax council could not force the property owner to act and he's not sure Amherst would have the power to do the same.
In essence, he said the town does not have the authority to tell someone to put up new siding or new paint if the property meets the requirements of what's an unsightly premises under provincial legislation.
Still, he added, the town wants to know if it there's a way it can act to redefine a standard for Amherst.
"At the end of the day, we all want the same thing, to have a nice attractive community that looks as good as it can," he said.