Harvard rethinks zoning option as crimestopper

HARVARD – In response to community concerns, Harvard officials have decided to put on hold indefinitely an idea to enact a new zoning option aimed at curtailing crime by discouraging renters.

The city was considering giving residents the option to declare Neighborhood Conservation Overlay Districts, a distinction that would mean owners of single-family houses in the district wouldn’t be allowed to change their residences to duplexes or rentals.

But city residents responded unfavorably to the idea, City Administrator Dave Nelson said.

“It got extremely political, so we’re going to set it aside at the moment,” Nelson said. “If it comes back up, it comes back up.”

Commenters on a Northwest Herald story about the measure in October called it discriminatory.

Nelson said residents called it heavy handed and voiced concerns about overregulation.

“That certainly wasn’t our intent,” he said.

The city instead will focus its efforts on a “chronic nuisance” measure, under which landlords or tenants could be stuck with penalties if police repeatedly respond to the same address.

The Neighborhood Conservation Overlay Districts option and chronic nuisance ordinance sprung up in response to concerns after a string of crimes earlier this year. Three shootings occurred within a month during the spring. In July, the city was the scene of a murder-suicide.

Officials hope a chronic nuisance measure, which could hit the ordinance committee in early January, would allow the city to hold landlords accountable if their tenants are repeatedly causing problems.

Although, Nelson noted, the ordinance would take into account extenuating circumstances, such as a case where a landlord has tried unsuccessfully to evict a tenant, he said. Tenants also could be charged under the law.

“The idea is to be able to forge a working relationship with the landlords to try to address our common problems,” Nelson said.

If passed, the chronic nuisance measure wouldn’t necessarily close the door to installing an Neighborhood Conservation Overlay Districts option.

Although Alderman Mike Clarke said he wants to bear in mind the community’s thoughts on anything it puts in place, he wouldn’t be opposed to reopening a discussion on the zoning distinction.

“In the future, I would consider it,” Clarke said.

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