Thursday, January 31, 2008

Public Hearing on Snow Clearing Ordinance

There will be a public hearing on Wednesday, February 6, in the Aldermanic Chambers to hear testimony on a proposed ordinance that would restore residents' obligation to clear snow from sidewalks abutting their properties. (No agenda online, yet.) I assume the meeting will begin at 7:45 PM.

It won't be a complete cure to the problems on our sidewalks, but it will help. The Board of Alderman need to pass this ordinance.

Here's the language to be added to Section 26-8 as a new section (D):

(D) In order to allow for safe pedestrian and wheelchair passage, every owner or occupant of a building or lot of land abutting upon a sidewalk or any person having charge of such property shall cause snow to be removed from the sidewalk and ice on the sidewalk to be removed, sanded or salted to allow for a passageway of at least thirty-six (36) inches in width, provided that where the sidewalk as defined herein is less than thirty-six (36) inches in width, the passageway shall encompass the entire width of such sidewalk. Snow shall be removed and ice shall be removed, sanded or salted within twenty-four (24) hours after such snow has ceased to fall or such ice has come to be formed, provided that when such property is owned or occupied by a low income elderly or low income handicapped person as defined in the foregoing paragraph (B), the time for compliance shall be forty-eight (48) hours. The Commissioner of Public Works, or his/her designee may grant a waiver from the terms of this paragraph (D) to persons defined in paragraph (B) for good cause shown. This paragraph shall apply to snow and ice which falls from buildings, other structures, trees or bushes, as well as to that which falls from clouds. This paragraph shall not apply to owners or occupants of a building or lot covered by Section 26-8.

As I discussed previously, I had been concerned about adding another requirement when the city isn't enforcing an existing prohibition against putting snow on sidewalks, Section 26-9. But, the new ordinance will regulate conditions not conduct making it more easily enforced. Ironically, it may even create greater compliance with Section 26-9. So, now I'm an enthusiastic supporter.

There are a few issues with the ordinance language:

  • It's unclear whether a citizen is responsible for snow that ends up on the sidewalk as a result of city street plowing. Here's the applicability sentence: "This paragraph shall apply to snow and ice which falls from buildings, other structures, trees or bushes, as well as to that which falls from clouds." Is this meant to apply to snow that comes over the grass berm onto my sidewalk? It should.
  • It's also unclear whether this covers the apron from the sidewalk to the street at corners. Again, it should, though that would impose an extra burden on corner-lot owners given the high mounds the city leaves.
  • It really should cover the apron at the end of most people's walks, where homeowners are supposed to leave garbage cans and recycling. This might reduce the cans-on-top-of-snow-banks problem.
  • The ordinance should include a provision that allows the Commissioner of Public Works extend the period for snow clearing in exceptional circumstances. It needn't be in the ordinance, but the Commissioner of Public Works could communicate the extension on the city web page, reverse 911, and any other communications mechanisms that the city uses in the future.

Try to make the hearing. Or, communicate your support for the new ordinance by e-mailing members of the Public Safety and Transportation and Public Facilities committees. E-mail the clerks:

  • Shawna Sullivan ssullivan@newtonma.gov (PS&T)
  • Christine Owen cowen@newtonma.gov (Pub Fac)
  • Rosalie Myers rmyers@newtonma.gov (Pub Fac)

Ask the clerks to forward your message to the committee members.

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