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Time to put more teeth into dangerous and unsightly premises rules

['Community Editorial Panel with Sheila Graham']
['Community Editorial Panel with Sheila Graham']

Community Editorial Panel with Sheila Graham

I always seem to return to the same topic when considering ideas for this column.

While a large part of me knows I sound like a broken record (a phrase which has almost become lost to an entire generation), it’s a topic which does seem to have become a thorn in my Amherst side.

Driving downtown I always feel a swell of pride for my adopted town. My thoughts go back to our initial relocation here and the awe I felt when I looked at the buildings and homes throughout the entire town.

I noticed and love the new paint colour and the awning on Focal Point as well as the refurbishment of the crosswalks. Isn’t it jaw dropping what a coat of paint can do? Even to a crosswalk.

The hanging flowers are gorgeous and don’t we all appreciate the flower beds in and around the town. I’ve always loved what was done to Victoria Park and think it adds such a nice element of surprise to the mid-point.

But then I leave that area and enter the bowels of Amherst. And there it is. The derelict buildings and spaces that make this town so undesirable. Some of the homes. Some of the yards. The obvious lack of pride of the owners and/or renters for the space they call home or work whether temporary or permanent.
I try to tell myself that cleanliness is learned. That sometimes we take too much for granted in the fact we actually have a roof over our head. I try to tell myself that my idea of grooming is not necessarily someone else’s idea of grooming. I try to give every benefit of the doubt to those that live where they do and do nothing about it, but it never really flies with me. The hard reality is that many people just don’t give a rat’s ass for the appearance of where they live. They lack that element of pride.
We spent the weekend in Wolfville. Holy mackerel, it’s well maintained. I wrote an article last year about visits to Annapolis Royal and Shelburne area and the like and to quote that fish a second time, holy mackerel they were well maintained too. And then I think of the palette Amherst was given all those years ago by local builders and how the painter must have lost his sight or his paint brush. And why anyone should even have to encourage anyone to take full advantage of the historic beauty of this town. Why is its condition even a topic of concern? Are some residents really that uncaring or are they blasé to its uniqueness?
I believe (I may be wrong in this) the town can’t react to a dangerous or unsightly premise until it receives a complaint. And I admit to picking up complaint sheets and even going so far as to take photos so I can pinpoint the areas of the properties that need looking after. But I shouldn’t have to do that. I shouldn’t have to squeal on my neighbours about something so obvious as garbage strewn all over the lawn, or grass so unruly in length I shudder to think what manner of garbage and filth may lay under it.
I’m generally very pleased with this town council we voted in. There are a few councillor names I can’t recall as they don’t seem to be around and about and adding to the landscape of the area but then the others and the mayor and deputy mayor are full participants in rejuvenating the town.

To them I say kudos. I like what you are doing. But how be you add one more position to council (or delete one council position and replace it. Do we really need as many as we have when I can’t even name them all?).

What we so desperately need is a position whose occupant’s sole purpose is cleaning up the town, a dedicated Dangerous and Unsightly Premises contact. For the town. Not a tacked-on-to-another-job-description position that can only follow the lead of a county directive. We need a specific town position with some real teeth and not just dentures as we have now. We need someone who doesn’t need to react to issues but who has the authority and the wherewithal to make the first move well before things have reached a point where destruction appears imminent.

We need a new or revised Dangerous and Unsightly Premises directive, specific to Amherst and its buildings, that can make a difference. Not one that can take years before results are shown. Included in this is the need for special directives which deal with uncaring landlords. Perhaps any out of town landlord pays twice the regular taxes and an in-towner pays three times the rate (because they should know better). I recently heard that Riverview, N.B. can charge a homeowner for uncut grass longer than six inches in length. Now those are a set of chompers!
While there many areas and homes and businesses which make me proud to call this place home, others make me cringe. So let’s make a deal here. I’ll stop this rambling if Amherstonians will take it upon themselves to, literally, clean up their act. And to those with obvious pride of ownership/rentership, thank you. Thank you for adding to an area which could be so much more than it is.

Sheila Graham is a member of the Amherst News Community Editorial Panel

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