Cranbury Township Sees Updated Property Maintenance Standards
A recently passed ordinance would allow the township to enforce provisions against unsafe property conditions
Cranbury residents must now comply with updated property maintenance standards, thanks to Cranbury Township Ordinance 11-12-13, which supplements the township code book with the new section 116, entitled “Minimum Community Property Standards.”
While several residents expressed concern last Monday prior to the ordinance’s passing, members of the Cranbury Township Committee, namely Dan Mulligan and Glenn Johnson, who introduced the ordinance, emphasized wording they felt was at the core of the ordinance – “minimum.”
“We’re looking for basic, minimum standards,” Mulligan said.
The ordinance states its purpose is to protect residents’ health, safety and welfare by establishing certain standards governing the maintenance, appearance, and condition of residential and commercial property in Cranbury. Mulligan said the ordinance is necessary for the township to be able to enforce those minimum standards.
Via the new ordinance, exterior protective materials must be securely fastened to residential and commercial buildings, and windows and doors must be in good repair and capable of preventing vandalism on the interior of the buildings. Otherwise, window frames and doorframes must be covered with plywood or similar material to prevent vandalism until repairs can be completed. Additionally, repairs should be completed within 30 days from the date the damage occurs.
Building owners must also display the number of their building so emergency personnel and first responders may quickly identify buildings, according to the ordinance.
The ordinance additionally states that shrubs, bushes, tree branches, and other vegetation should be trimmed to prevent encroachment on the adjacent sidewalk and roadways and to allow for a vertical clearance of at least seven feet above the sidewalk and at least 14 feet above the roadway.
Noxious vegetation such as poison ivy should additionally be trimmed to prevent encroachment on sidewalks and roadways. Moreover, vegetation of any sort cannot obstruct the sight lines at the intersection of two roadways or the intersection of a commercial driveway and a roadway.
The ordinance also states that lawns must be trimmed so they do not exceed a height of 12 inches from the ground. This does not apply, however, to farm or agriculture assessed properties, ornamental grasses, stream corridor restorations or stream bank stabilization plans, or meadows.
Other provisions forbid debris on properties, which include construction materials or broken glass from building deterioration, hazards that permit rodent harborage, waste materials from land development or construction, or bulky waste, like appliances and indoor furniture. Fences must also be maintained in an upright position and have all their attendant parts.
According to the ordinance, provisions would be enforced by an authorized agent or employee of the township, who will be known as the property maintenance code enforcement officer. Mulligan said this would be the head of the township public works department.
“We’re not going to have somebody driving around looking for this stuff,” Mulligan assured residents.
Many residents who questioned the ordinance said it would allow for big-brother mentality from the township, as well as lead to dissonance among neighbors.
“I think once you start introducing stuff like this as an official, I think it could be a slippery slope, and I definitely think it will invite neighbor on neighbor,” said resident Andrea Kane.
Some residents also felt the ordinance could lead to Cranbury becoming an elitist community, and commented that they moved to the township for its small-town charm.
“This is a very American community, and I don’t think it should become elitist,” said resident Ellen Yochelson.
“It’s not about being an elitist state in any way,” Mulligan responded. “Again, as we come back to this, we have some enforcement mechanisms already, we’re just filling in some gaps here – that’s really what we’re trying to do.”
Others felt the ordinance was too general. Resident David Szabo cited the term encroachment as an example, stating that the ordinance should specify what constitutes encroachment on sidewalks and roadways.
Mulligan responded that the goal is merely for pathways to be passable.
“We tried not to be far-reaching with this,” Mulligan said. “That’s the one thing – we tried to be very, very basic.”
Some residents expressed concern that the provisions came about from a small percentage of township properties that were unkempt. Committeeman Jay Taylor said of the approximately 1,200 homes in Cranbury, only about eight were truly problematic. He suggested the township begin by applying the code only to vacant properties on a trial basis.
Other residents spoke in support of the ordinance with the hope that it will rectify issues surrounding the vacant or abandoned properties in town, such as the harboring of rodents or vandalism.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having basic, simple rules for the whole community,” said resident Jane Elias.
The resolution passed 3 to 1, with Taylor voting against and Committeewoman Susan Goetz absent.