Robert Searle is the Town of Greenwich's Zoning Inspector and Nuisance Abatement Officer. Next week in a meeting entitled, "Mitigate or Litigate," Searle will address the myriad issues raised by neighbors across property lines. Here he discusses his role in town and some of the issues he handles.
Q: What is a Zoning Inspector and Nuisance Abatement Officer?
A: A Zoning Inspector works in the Zoning Enforcement Office, which is the enforcement end of Planning and Zoning. We enforce the Building Zone Regulations of the Town of Greenwich. The Nuisance Abatement Officer, by Town Charter, works under the authority of the First Selectman and enforces the Nuisance Ordinance -- as described in the Town Charter.
Q: What are the various issues you are dealing with?
A: Under the enforcement portion of the position(s), I have the opportunity to deal with a great number of complaints/violations. These violations range from illegal apartments and business uses (Zoning) to junk cars, abandoned properties, and garbage/debris covered lots (Nuisance).
Q: What are the most common complaints neighbors have with each other that fall under your purview?
A: Nuisance: Junk cars, garbage/junk all over the yard, overgrown vegetation.
Zoning: Illegal apartment, illegal signs, fence height, unpermitted structures.
Q: How often do you have to refer cases on noncompliance to the Connecticut State's Attorney's Office for criminal prosecution. And what is most common complaint?
A: Zoning violations are the only cases that would be forwarded to the State's Attorney. In the year and a half I have been with the Town of Greenwich, I can only think of one such case, the illegal use of a commercially zoned parcel of land. It is currently in the process of resolution outside of the courts.
Q: What are a couple of the most unusual cases that have come your way?
A: In terms of Nuisance Violations, the most difficult cases I work on involve those individuals who have been stockpiling/collecting -- hording -- for many years. These cases are not just violations of an ordinance, but may possibly overlap with other departments due to the psychological aspect of the problem. As a Zoning Inspector, I have received complaints regarding long-term, non-conforming businesses. Determining the legality of these non-conformities is left up to the landowner. In these situations, they are required to provide historical documentation proving the business (use) was operated on the site prior to the change in the Zoning regulations. One particular business provided documents and photos regarding their family business dating back to 1925 -- prior to the adoption of zoning regulations in the Town of Greenwich.