By Bob Seidenberg
A new City snow shoveling ordinance has been placed on hold, with some aldermen raising concerns about how its provisions will be applied.
Aldermen held over the proposal at their Feb. 24 City Council meeting, directing staff to come back with changes addressing some of their concerns.
City staff is proposing that property owners remove snow and ice from sidewalks after any accumulation of snow has fallen, dropping their current rule which requires shoveling after four inches of snow.
Receiving criticism, officials have pulled back from their original fee structure proposal for non-compliance from $150, $400, and $750 for first, second and third violations, to $50, $200, and $450.
In discussion at the Feb. 24 meeting, though, Ald. Donald Wilson, 4th Ward, said he was still uncomfortable with some aspects of the ordinance.
“ I’ve heard from a number of people in the community — it’s being referred to as the zero-tolerance provision,” he said.
“Honestly, that’s the way it is written — it’s written so any accumulation of snow or ice has to be removed. and I don’t know anybody in the city who gets all the snow and ice (removed) with 100% certainty.”
Ald. Wilson, an attorney, also noted that current Illinois law doesn’t appear to hold property owners responsible when there are natural accumulations of snow and ice.
“So I don’t want to create a situation where, not only are people being fined, but if that’s not done that might create a liability situation for a homeowner or removal company for not doing it perfectly.”
Another alderman, Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, observed with the proposal, “it’s going to be a really big change for our residents to be required within 24 hours to immediately remove all snow and ice.”
She wondered what kind of grace period the City would give residents while they adjust to the changes.
How it would work
In that regard, Johanna Leonard, the City’s Community Development Director, said the department generally responds to a shoveling complaint more than 24 hours following a snowfall.
“It’s not like we’re ready right at the marker,” she said.
Under the current proposal, an inspector would then go visit the site and, if the complaint is confirmed, would issue a notice of violation, “that is not a ticket,” she stressed.
“It just says: Here’s the code; here’s the penalty.”
The inspector would then return again after 24 hours have passed (and more likely longer than that if the City was dealing with a large number of complaints) and, at that point, can ticket.
“But even then it’s not like a parking ticket,” she told aldermen.
“There’s a date set in the future for an administrative (adjudication) hearing, and then you could be found liable but as I’ve learned from the inspectors… it’s not zero tolerance. If you made attempts (at removal) the (Administrative Adjudication) hearing officers are generally forgiving and may find you really could not remove it” (the snow and ice).
As for a grace period, Ms. Leonard anticipated “ a built-in grace period, just getting information out there” about the new program.
City staff members have already been circulating “door hangers”— information placards residents can give to neighbors, gently reminding them of the need to shovel, she said.
Ald. Peter Braithwaite. 2nd Ward, said officials had addressed his biggest concern by reducing the fee structure.
He said the “time and energy” officials have devoted to getting word out about clearing sidewalks has been important too.
“You’re seeing more compliance,” he said.
Some other Council members, though, continued to have questions.
Ald. Cicely Fleming, 9th, noted one resident in her ward goes out at 5 in the morning with his snowblower after a snowfall, and clears the sidewalks around his house.
However, if “when he gets home, if it’s cold, it’s a block of ice — than he is not going to go out there to remove, or can’t remove,” she said. “So I have concerns about people like that.”
“ I am also not sure how we work with our seniors,” she added. “I can tell you on my block where the seniors is someone who has shovels and where the senior does not have shovels.”
Ms. Fleming also raised concern the new ordinance could be misused.
“There are some neighbors who I know are going to wait for for that snow, and they’re going to call on a neighbor they don’t like, or for whatever reason. And then you’re (the inspectors are) going to be out there and you’re unfortunately going to be in the middle of some kind of neighborhood feud,” she told Ms.Leonard.
Still a matter of judgment
Ms. Leonard indicated staff will exercise judgement in such cases.
“In terms of corners I think if you can’t get to the snow and it’s become a block of snow, you can’t get to the snow,” she said.
“We’re all human and well try to work with people in this stuff,” she said.
She said the goal is compliance leading to “improving walkability in our built environments.”
Ald. Wilson said he appreciated those sentiments.
“But none of that is in the ordinance — like zero is in the ordinance. I hear what you’re saying— ‘we’re not going to be overly harsh or anything — but that’s not what it (the ordinance) says. So if we’re going to pass a law, if it can’t be uniformly applied as it’s written, I don’t think we should pass something that’s not uniformly applied.”