Ridgefield officials seek stiffer penalties for building code violators after razing on New Street

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RIDGEFIELD — The Board of Selectmen want to amend the state’s building, fire and demolition code to increase penalties for violators of up to $10,000.

The request follows a controversial razing of a structure on New Street last fall, which occurred without the proper permits.

Penalties call for any person found in violation of the state’s building, fire and demolition code to be fined no more than $500 serve no more than a year in jail or both.

The proposal sets the minimum fine at $1,000 with a maximum fine of $10,000, and maintains the clause relative to jail time.

In 2020, the town established a demolition delay ordinance which states that no person, firm, corporation or other entity shall demolish any building or structure without first obtaining a permit from the building department.

Any person failing to abide by the provisions of the ordinance shall be fined the maximum amount of $500 pursuant to state statutes.

“We cannot fine anything for a greater amount than what Connecticut state statutes allow,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said, “and a lot of people don’t understand that.”

In September, CV Building Concepts owner Rich Szentkuti razed a house at 8 New St., in Ridgefield, which he owns in addition to 10 New St., the site of a garage.

Ridgefield’s building department accepted a demolition permit application from CV Building for review on Sept. 15, but the house was demolished on Sept. 25, before the end of the town’s 30-day ordinance.

“From that day, when it’s accepted by us, that’s when the 30 days start,” building official Jason Celestino said in an earlier interview.

When Szentkuti appeared in December in state Superior Court in Danbury, the prosecutor suggested he make a $1,000 donation to a local organization in lieu of paying the fine. Celestino suggested the Ridgefield Historical Society, but board members declined the donation.

Marconi submitted his proposal to state Rep. Aimee Berger-Girvalo, D-Ridgefield, for consideration in Hartford. The bill is being reviewed by the Planning and Development and Public Safety committees, which will determine if it should go to a public hearing, she said.

“The best chance we have of getting it out of committee and onto … the floor for a vote” is with a public hearing, Berger-Girvalo said. “This was a law put in place for safety first and foremost. … The punishment needs to fit the crime.”

Marconi agreed.

“What we’re trying to achieve is to have the consequence of an action carry a stiffer penalty. The current amount has probably been there for 30 years, and times have changed,” he said. “The $500 people will pay in a heartbeat.”

The Building Department has since issued permits to CV Building to begin construction of two single-family houses at 8 New Street. The property was split into two lots — now 6 and 8 New Street — via a special permit application approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission.

The garage at 10 New Street still stands, according to Celestino, but Szentkuti plans to erect a single-family home on that property, as well. The department received the demolition permit for the garage in December, but a building permit has yet to be issued.

CORRECTION: An original version of this article incorrectly stated who proposed the amendment. This article has been corrected to reflect that the Board of Selectmen decided to propose the amendment.