A pair of committees of the City Council began working on changing Watertown’s Snow Removal Ordinance to include rules for residential properties, including required width of shoveling, deadlines, and fines.
The Joint Committees on Public Works and Rules & Ordinances discussed the changes during a virtual meeting on March 29, and discussed some significant changes to the ordinance. Eventually the proposed ordinance will be presented during a Public Forum, and then considered by the full City Council for approval.
Classification of Properties
One of the first changes was how to define properties, and which rules would apply to each classification. The current Snow Removal Ordinance has different rules based on the zoning of the area, business districts vs. residential districts. Councilors noted that there are residential properties in business districts and commercial buildings in residential districts in Watertown.
The Committees voted to create a Small Residential Properties classification for the Snow Removal Ordinance. This includes one-, two-, and three-family homes. The other classifications, Non-Small Residential Properties, includes all other properties, including multi-family residential buildings with four or more units.
How Much Shoveling
The Committees wanted to make sure that a path wide enough for a wheelchair to use the sidewalk is cleared in front of all properties. The original proposal was 36 inches, but some suggested that the area be wider to give more room for someone using a wheelchair to pass.
Councilor Lisa Feltner said she supports having enough room for wheelchair access, but she worried about how realistic it would be given some of the unusual sidewalks in Watertown.
“There are areas where I live where the sidewalk is degraded so much that it isn’t paved 36 inches (wide),” Feltner said.
Council Vice President Vincent Piccirilli, the chair of the joint committees, suggested that the ordinance say a path 42 inches wide should be cleared where possible, or to the full width if narrower.
Feltner worried that some people may not have a place to put the snow. In her neighborhood, for instance, there isn’t a planting strip on which to pile snow.
The Committees approved the 42 inches path, or full width if narrower.
Fines and Exemptions
The Snow Removal Ordinance will include fines for those who do not clear paths after a storm.
The first proposal called for having two sets of fines. One for Non-Small Residential Properties which imposes a fine of $100 for the first offense, $200 for the second and $300 for the third or more offense. The City would also have the option of giving a written warning. The second one called for having a warning for the first offense for Small Residential Properties, a $25 fine for the second offense, $50 for the third and $100 for the fourth offense or subsequent.
Feltner worried that $25 would not be enough to make people shovel.
“The fine is so minimal, $25,” Feltner said, “It’s like not someone is not going to pay the parking ticket and just park here.”
Councilor John Gannon said that he doesn’t want the fines to be too high.
“We can acknowledge we all make mistakes and the first one shouldn’t kill us,” Gannon said. “A scofflaw will be paying $100 fines.”
The Committees agreed to change the fines for Small Residential Properties to a warning for the first offense, $50 for the second and third offenses, and $100 for the fourth or more offense.
The Ordinance will include exemptions, but the Committees did not go into a detailed discussion.
Piccirilli suggested that the staff of the Department of Community Development and Planning come up with proposed exemptions and bring them back at the next meeting of the two committees.
Councilor Tony Palomba suggested that exemptions be made for people who are not physically able to shovel and who cannot afford to pay someone to remove snow and ice.
The Committees decided to give all properties 24 hours to clear the sidewalks after the end of snowfall, sleet or freezing rain. The current rules give properties in business districts 12 hours after the storm to remove snow.
Palomba said it doesn’t make sense to him that the owner of a mom and pop store has to get out and clear snow on a Sunday if it snows on a Saturday night, even if the store is not open that day. He added that on days that the business will be open, they will have to clear snow so customers can access the business.
The Committees agreed to have the 24-hour requirement for all types of properties.
At the next Joint Committees meeting, Piccirilli proposed that Councilors discuss the proposed exemptions and review the changes made on March 29. Then the draft would be presented during a Public Forum where people will have a chance to comment on the ordinance.
The Joint Committees would meet again and consider the comments from the public and come up with a final draft. The final draft would be considered for approval by the City Council.