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Cold Reception for Snow Removal Ordinance

by ARLnow.com May 24, 2010 at 1:37 pm 1,683 7 Comments

County officials were there to listen. And thanks to the myriad of concerns expressed by residents, there was plenty of listening to do.

At an informal public forum on Arlington’s proposed snow removal ordinance, a group of about 30 residents took turns dissecting every possible facet of the two-page statute.

The proposed ordinance legally mandates that home and business owners clear snow from their sidewalks and prohibits the dumping snow on streets and other public property. A violation would theoretically be greeted with a $100 fine and, if necessary, a bill for the cost of hiring a private contractor to clear the stretch of sidewalk in question.

But what may seem straightforward actually generated a slew of questions:

  • Why shouldn’t the county face the same stringent snow removal standards for public property?
  • Wouldn’t this place an unfair burden on certain residents in areas where only one side of the street has a sidewalk?
  • Would you be violating the ordinance by clearing snow off a car that’s parked in the street?
  • What if residents are traveling?  Since they’ll know your house is unoccupied, is it safe to hire someone to clear the sidewalk while you’re gone?
  • Where do you put the snow if you don’t have a front yard?
  • What sort of recourse do you have if a county plow deposits snow onto your freshly-shoveled sidewalk?

Those last two questions were the most controversial — and the most commonly asked.

“Giving the county the authority and ability to fine me for not shoveling my sidewalk is a really bad idea,” one man said. “We worked really hard to shovel our sidewalk all the way around, and then the county came along and plowed it over. They were the worst offenders during this winter.”

The county should figure out where residents can lawfully place the snow before enacting the ordinance, another resident said. “For me, the fundamental issue is: tell me where the snow goes.”

For their part, county officials suggested that enforcement of the ordinance will not be a priority. Teams of inspectors will not comb neighborhoods following snow storms, they said. Rather, the county will rely on resident complains (and judging by the large number of complaints the police department already gets about illegally parked cars, there will be no shortage of snow complaints). Once a complaint is received, the offending resident may receive a phone call or other gentle reminder about their civic shoveling duty.

Only when all else fails, and the snow-covered sidewalk is deemed a public safety hazard, would a contractor be dispatched to clear it at the resident’s expense, officials said.

There are other ways the ordinance could promote shoveling without stringent enforcement, at least one pro-ordinance resident pointed out. If clearing one’s sidewalk is required by law, not shoveling would be a major liability — a homeowner could easily be sued if someone slips and falls.

The county board is scheduled to vote on the ordinance at its June 12 meeting.

  • Daniel W

    OMG. 30 whole concerned citizens.

    Compare that to the thousands of people who will find Arlington to be a more pleasant, more walkable experience.

  • Steve

    I love this part: “county officials suggested that enforcement of the ordinance will not be a priority… Once a a complaint is received, the offending resident MAY receive a phone call or other gentle reminder about their civic shoveling duty.”

    OK… so even THEY realize that this is an empty gesture, on their part, to pander to a couple angry emails/phone calls they must have received during the 100 year storm. The law won’t change anything, it won’t help anything, it won’t even be enforced…

    “Why not pass a law?” The first and only solution of politicians to all of life’s difficulties.

  • Anthony

    If enforcing the ordinance is not a priority, why pass the ordinance? Why not spend the resources enforcing ordinances that are already on teh books, such as overcrowding?

  • Eric

    In our neighborhood the biggest issues were with the sidewalks and intersections owned by the county and leading to and around both our local elementary school and middle school.

  • CJR

    Living on a corner lot, I’ve got 10 times the sidewalk most people have – lucky I’m young and can do it for now – but it’s a lot of work. And with 3 parking spaces in front of our house and a lot of post-college renters on the block – where will the snow go that they shovel from their cars parked in front of my house? – since there is a fairly big gap between the road and my 3 foot fence (a.k.a the sidewalk) do I get the ticket for not cleaning up after they shovel snow onto my sidewalk / road – after I’ve already shoveled my sidewalk and car? And since when has a government agency that had the right to fine a household decide not to take an active effort on that? The people writing the ordinance are not the enforcers, and will they pass along a Memo to not enforce it? Also, the County announcing to strangers that the residents are not at home is a big issue, along with the attached legal liability that comes with failing to shovel the snow in a “timely” manner.

  • Dont pass a law / ordinance you are not going to enforce. That breeds cynicism.

    The county could not even clear the roads and sidewalks it was responsible for during snowpocolypse. And now it wants to fine everyone else.

    This was a once in a 100 year storm. I cannot understand why we are passing a bad ordinance to respond to a situation which is unlikely to repeat itself in our lifetime.

  • Thes

    We don’t put a police officer at every stop sign in Arlington to ticket every driver who fails to make a full and complete stop. We don’t have the resources to do that. When police do see it, they often give warnings. Yes, some people run stop signs, but most people don’t. Why? It’s a good idea and it’s the law. The law to stop at stop signs doesn’t breed cynicism, it solidifies community expectations. Also, it clarifies who is financially responsible if someone gets hurt from lack of shoveling.

    We use the law to set standards. Moral standards and cultural standards. This law would set some expectations: How wide a path on your sidewalk should you shovel? How quickly should we expect people to clear a path? What do we expect you to do if you’re wealthy enough to own a home in Arlington but not physically able to shovel your own sidewalk?

    There is a happy medium between total chaos, which is what we have now, and jackbooted thugs hauling off grandma to jail because she didn’t get every flake off her sidewalk by the 24th hour. That seems to be what the County is going for. Good for them.

    Arlington gets a 6″ snowstorm every 2 to 3 years or so, and it gets a foot or more every 5 or 6 years. That’s enough to need a plan for digging ourselves out.

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