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Port Chester Modifies Building-Permit Amnesty Program

PORT CHESTER, N.Y. -- Port Chester has increased its permit-amnesty program in an effort to provide incentives for people to bring their homes up to code.

The amnesty program was initially established in 2012 to provide relief to homeowners who unknowingly bought homes that had code violations. The law allowed residents to apply for multiple permits under one umbrella permit, waived fees for building permits and waived fines for violations.

The program has been modified in an effort to give more relief to one- and two-family homes. The changes allow families under certain conditions to self-certify their properties, thus bypassing the Zoning Board and saving money on construction drawings. Some residencies would also be allowed "Lawful non-conforming" status if they were issued a building permit before 1955 or between 1975 and 2010.

The amnesty program was created during a three-year crackdown on building violations in the village. Many buildings contain many violations or lack proper permits and paperwork such as certificates of occupancy. Over the past few months the village has held public hearings on the proposed changes to the program, which has drawn criticism from residents. Some believe that the program rewards those with permit violations, while still forcing code-abiding homeowners to strictly follow the rules to appease the Building Department.

Residents of the Landmark condominium building were very critical of the department, saying that the building's lack of a certificate of occupancy prevented homeowners from selling or refinancing their mortgages. That building received a certificate on Aug. 15.

Village Manger Chris Steers said that the program is misunderstood.

"It has helped hundreds of people, it will continue to help hundreds more," he said. He points to examples such as one building whose owners would have had to pay $21,000 to come into compliance, but with amnesty were able to pay $12,000.

With the new changes, costs and time will further be reduced for families, Steers said. A one-family house that was converted to a two-family house without proper permits would have had to pay $5,000 to come into compliance. Now, the homeowners will have to pay about $1,400. About 230 homeowners will now be exempt from having to go to the Zoning Board for certification of existing construction.

Mayor Neil Pagano supports the changes, and said that if further changes need to be made, the village can go back and fix it.

"I look at amnesty the same way I do at zoning and the comprehensive plan. We can tweak it," Pagano said. "The only way we know what the ramifications are is once its in place and we see how it is in action."

The original amnesty program was supposed to expire in December 2012, but has been extended until Oct. 31, 2013. Once a homeowner is granted amnesty, they have 18 months to bring their home into compliance.

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