By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — City councilors said the recent defacement of several high-visibility buildings near downtown is evidence the city is at risk for being overrun with graffiti.
Councilor William Ryan said there’s been a surge of graffiti on White, Winter and Charles streets, as well as in other parts of the city. Those three streets are near each other just north of downtown, between the city center and the neighborhood known as The Acre.
Ryan said responsible owners clean up their property when it is spray-painted by vandals. But he said many targets in the inner city are abandoned or bank-owned properties.
“No one is doing anything to clean up some of the worst graffiti over there,” Ryan said. “And I’m worried that with summer coming it’s going to get worse if we don’t so something about it. That we’re going to start seeing it at the stadium and on a number of other public buildings and property. We need to get serious and aggressive on this.”
The council discussed a number of ideas for combating graffiti at Tuesday’s meeting. They included asking the mayor to have a police officer or highway worker identify buildings with graffiti and passing new ordinances increasing penalties for defacing property and requiring owners to clean up property defaced with spray paint.
“It’s mostly young kids trying to copy big-city gangs by declaring territory to deal drugs,” Ryan said. “Police will tell you that you have to get rid of it as soon as it happens or you’re going to start seeing more.”
Other councilors said they have also noticed a spike in graffiti in recent months.
“The solution isn’t easy because we don’t have the right to force a private owner to paint there property unless the graffiti is profane,” said Councilor Thomas Sullivan, who’s also a lawyer. “But I agree we should review our ordinances and try to see what we can do legally. Because if we don’t do something we could lose control over our property and the city’s aesthetics.”
Councilor Michael McGonagle said most people want to get rid of graffiti on their property, but that sometimes they just need a little help. He said he recently approached a resident, on behalf of her neighbors, whose fence on Scottland Heights Road was spray-painted by vandals. He said the woman agreed to let a charity group McGonagle is involved with clean it.
“Neighborhood involvement is the key,” McGonagle said, adding that Rebuilding Together Greater Haverhill will paint the woman’s fence April 27.
Councilors voted to send the mayor a letter asking him to have someone from the Police Department or Public Works Department go around and identify graffiti in the city and contact property owners to ask them to clean it up. They also agreed to ask City Solicitor William Cox to research anti-graffiti ordinances and draft one for them to consider.
Council President Robert Scatamacchia suggested an ordinance preventing stores from selling spray-paint to teenagers, but that idea found little support.