South Bethany pursuing construction scofflaws

Each month for the last several months, South Bethany property owner Tom Roach has come to the town council with complaints about construction sites where contractors have flouted the town’s ordinances regarding the cleanliness of the sites and the permitted hours of construction. Many of those present at the meetings have been vocal in sharing his concerns and reporting their own.

On April 13, Roach reported yet another such incident to the council, noting that his wife had ended up calling the 911 emergency number late one night to request that a stop be put to ongoing after-hours construction.

“It was 10:30 at night and they were still hammering,” Roach said. He noted that he had even been told by emergency officials that the town’s police department wasn’t available to respond to his call at night.

Even worse, Roach said the same site had been under construction when he’d left to attend that night’s 7 p.m. meeting — nearly an hour after the 6 p.m. stop time for all legal construction in South Bethany.

That news sent Patrolman Josh Rowley straight from his report for the town council to the construction site in question, as the police fill in for vacationing Code Enforcement Constable Joe Vogel, who has taken and investigated such complaints in the past but struggled to put a final stop to the problems town-wide.

For the record, permitted hours of construction in South Bethany are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday, with no construction permitted on Sundays. Even though that restriction is printed in information that Vogel distributes with all building permits issued by the town, some contractors seem to be unable to abide by it.

Roach has reported construction starting at 7 a.m. or earlier and going on into the dark. And there have been numerous complaints of contractors failing to abide by requirements that debris be kept contained and that sites be covered with gravel to reduce the stirring up of dirt as work progresses.

Of the violations, Mayor Gary Jayne said April 13, “The contractors know it. They choose to ignore it.” Jayne noted that there had been some problems in the past with contractors working on their own homes and presuming that they were able to conduct construction activities at all hours, as property owners, despite the use of a crew.

Former Councilman — and a successful Board of Adjustments candidate on April 13 — Bob Cestone said that, even in the case of property owners conducting their own construction work without a crew, the stop time is still 8 p.m. — well before some have ceased their work, according to reports. (Councilman Richard Ronan said of Cestone’s 6-0 appointment to the seat, “I couldn’t think of a better choice,” citing Cestone’s knowledge of town code.)

Jayne emphasized that anyone who has obtained a building permit from the town has certainly been informed of the restrictions. If they violate them, he said, the town can shut the site down. That has been done, if rarely.

As a side note to the discussion, Rowley addressed the statement that South Bethany police are not available at night. He said that a recent staffing shortage, combined with added enforcement duties while Vogel is not on duty, had left the officers struggling to deal with all the calls that needed answering.

Indeed, Rowley said the SBPD had been called out to enforce the town’s construction restrictions at least twice in March.

Acknowledging that many property owners are reluctant to call 911 — the emergency number — when they don’t have a dire emergency at that moment, Rowley advised citizens to go ahead and feel free to dial 911 any time a timely police response is needed.

“They keep a more accurate record of the phone call,” Rowley said. He advised those seeking information about a traffic ticket, for instance, to wait and call the police department’s non-emergency number during the daytime. But even those reporting a non-emergent situation requiring police attention — day or night — should be calling 911 without hesitation, he advised.

Rowley further noted that the South Bethany Police Department is in the process of developing a response system in which calls would simultaneously be routed both to the police dispatch system and to the cell phones of individual on-duty South Bethany officers — aiding in quick response. He said the major hold-up was old technology at the old building — something that should be fixed once the new building is completed.

Police active on

home security issues

Those calls regarding construction violations joined the SBPD’s caseload in March along with the investigation of a report of a suspicious person — a case in which a man had approached a teenage girl in the town but was not able to be located after the report was made.

Rowley said there had also been a spate of reports of suspected electricity theft from unoccupied homes. He said some of the homes in question had had their internal power shut off, suggesting someone might be tapping into external sockets without permission.

But some property owners at the meeting said they had noticed the same spike in electrical bills from January that many of the complaints to police had cited. Some had been told that the increased billing was due to a slight increase in rates, accompanied by estimated use in February’s snowy weather that may have artificially kept February bills low.

Rowley said there had also been a report of illegal dumping on a vacant lot. He said the property owner suspected the activity was in retribution after complaints about overgrown grass.

The patrolman also noted that there was a possibility that the department might soon offer a half-hour seminar on home security, with property owner interest. He pointed to a recent increase in burglaries and thefts in surrounding communities — particularly where homes were unoccupied and sometimes unlocked.

Rowley said the seminar might focus on reducing complacency — what he said was the biggest cause of such crime in the area. He pointed to expensive boats being left on unlocked trailers as one issue of concern. New types of locks and other issues to consider regarding home security might be part of the seminar, he said.