WILTON — Town officials are seeking a $100 a day fine from a property owner accused of not cleaning up his front yard, violating a new property maintenance ordinance, but he says the fine is more money than he earns and he can’t pay it.

Town Manager Rhonda Irish previously described Duane Pollis’ Adams Street property as “probably the worst situation in town.”

The five-person board of selectmen unanimously voted Oct. 1 to seek a  $100 per day fine from Pollis starting last Thursday and also to seek the cost of the town’s attorney fees. The board waited until Thursday, two days after the vote, for the fines to begin to accrue, so Pollis would have a 24-hour grace period to appeal.

Irish said Pollis did not attend the selectmen’s meeting when the board voted to impose the fine and said he hasn’t contacted any town official in an effort to appeal the move or suggest alternative resolution.

Pollis, 45, said the piles of wood, five defunct vehicles, a door, motors, sinks and scrap are there because he’s planning to sell the items for parts or intends to salvage them for building projects on his property.

He also said he cannot afford to pay the fine.

“Some call it hoarding, but if you’re poor and can keep what you need around for when you might need it, in a pile where you know just where it’s at, what’s wrong with that?” he said Monday.

Pollis, 45, said he bought the Adams Street property in 2000 for $59,000, moving there from Jay. He said he has nowhere to put the items and should not be made to move them.

The house is on a side street that loops off and back around to Depot Street, one of the main roads into Wilton.

The ordinance to enforce a minimum level of property upkeep was passed by 10 votes — 79–69 — at Town Meeting in June after a lengthy debate.

Voters in the town of 4,100 gave the town the authority to require homeowners who live downtown or in zoning just outside downtown to keep their property in “good repair.” Examples of good repair included a yard free of trash and “offensive material,” no missing shingles or crumbling brick exteriors. They are also required to move all debris considered a health and safety hazard.

Proponents said the ordinance was necessary to protect the town as a whole because unkempt property depreciated neighboring property values and hurts tourism efforts.

Opponents said it gives the town unfair control over private property and places a burden on the town’s low-income residents, such as Pollis, who said he makes a little under $14,000 a year through general contracting and odd jobs.

The Wilton Ordinance Committee said the ordinance was passed to protect downtown and it is only applicable in downtown, commercial and some residential areas near downtown.

Pollis said he thought the ordinance was passed to force “slumlord landlords” to maintain downtown properties and said he agreed with that concept. He said his property, however, is apart from the main part of town, and he cannot afford to pay a fine that is more than he earns in a week.

“Why are they targeting me?” he said.

Robert Jellison, 81, who lives next to Pollis, said he isn’t bothered by Pollis’ property and doesn’t think it’s right for the town to fine him.

Irish told the board last week that the town has received complaints from Pollis’ neighbors, and she provided the selectmen with photos she took of the property.

On Monday, Irish directed a call for comment to the town’s attorney, Lee Bragg.

Bragg said the civil action is in its early stages, and a judge will have to order Pollis to pay the accruing fines in order for the town to get the money.

“Nothing happens until a judge says it happens,” he said.

Pollis was first told to clean up his property in June, when he was contacted by then-code enforcement officer Paul Montague. Pollis was granted an extension until the end of September because of extenuating circumstances.

Pollis said his girlfriend died recently, and he told Montague to get off his property.

“I’m not gonna lie. It was just not the right time to talk with him,” Pollis said.

The town has not yet hired a replacement for Montague, who resigned in July. Irish has filled the code enforcement role and sent Pollis the notification letter.

Irish said the extension has since run out, and Pollis has not made progress in cleaning up his yard. She said Pollis has made no contact with the town and has not filed for an appeal.

“He’s ignoring us, ignoring the letters, basically ignoring this board,” she said.

Irish said she did not recommend trying to fine him and suggested trying to reach an alternative solution that resulted in the yard being picked up.

Selectman Tom Saviello said he understands why Irish suggested not fining Pollis, but said the board should seek to impose the penalty because they have to uphold the ordinance.

“If we don’t do it, then people out there will say, ‘Well, they put it in place, and they’re not doing anything about it,’” he said.

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252
[email protected]