City plans to move forward on plan for sidewalk snow removal

Thursday, December 22, 2011 | 5:50 p.m. CST; updated 9:02 a.m. CST, Friday, December 23, 2011

COLUMBIA — The city of Columbia is making a new plan for getting rid of snow and ice on sidewalks.

A plan to encourage snow removal and better enforce removal rules should be headed to the Columbia City Council for action in January.

“Sooner is better because it’s winter and snow may come,” David Heise, Bicycle and Pedestrian Commission chair, said.

The proposal includes an ordinance that requires all property owners, businesses or homeowners within priority areas to clear their sidewalks of snow, hazardous ice or sleet.

At this point, the plan is a draft, and it will be presented as a set of recommendations.

“It’s kind of like a tomato we’re throwing at the wall and seeing what sticks,” commission member Patricia McDonald said.

The ordinance would kick in after 2 or more inches of snow have accumulated or if there is a significant amount of ice or sleet. The director of public works would notify the public via radio and TV announcements and on the city website, and property owners would have 48 hours to clear their sidewalks.

Property owners would also be responsible for applying abrasives, such as sand or salt, to the sidewalks for added safety.

There are 91 miles of sidewalk that have been designated as a priority area, and that includes residential streets. The boundaries of that area are Old 63, Interstate 70 and Stadium Boulevard. These sidewalks run parallel to roads maintained by the city and the Missouri Department of Transportation.

Within that area, the commission has designated 36 miles of sidewalk as having higher priority. The high-priority sidewalks are those that are next to main roads, Heise said. These sidewalks are among the most likely to get covered in slush when the roads are plowed, he said.

There is already a snow removal ordinance in place, but it’s not really enforced, Heise said.

According to the Columbia Code of Ordinances, Section 24-12, property owners within city limits who don’t clear snow, ice, dirt, rubbish, filth, refuse or other obstructions from in front of or near their property could be guilty of a misdemeanor.

The proposed ordinance addresses specifically property owners in the priority area; the current ordinance would still apply to everyone.

Heise said the priority area could be used as a testing ground for future expansion to other areas of the city.

“If this proves successful, then we try to work on the whole area,” he said. “We’re trying to figure out how to do this and how to do this well.”

The commission’s recommendation calls for enforcement of the new ordinance to start with citizens.  If a property owner hasn’t cleaned up the sidewalk after 48 hours, someone who thinks it’s hazardous could call the city to report it. The city would tell the property owner that a complaint had been filed, and the snow would have to be removed immediately.

If the property owner did not remove the snow, the city would have the snow removed and would bill the owner for the expense. The owner would also have to pay another fee, which has not yet been determined.

If the property owner couldn't remove the snow, the city would share a list of private snow removal contractors and volunteer organizations. The city might be able to remove sidewalk snow without the help of private contractors, but roads are the priority, not sidewalks, Heise said. 

At this point, the plan is still in the works. The next step is to present the plan to council. Additional changes could be made after that.

“Our feelings won’t be hurt if something is changed,” Heise said. “What we are trying to do is get some action, instead of no action.”

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Mike Martin December 22, 2011 | 6:08 p.m.

Yet another way to shift public property upkeep costs to average citizens so there are more millions in the till to pay developers for overpriced land, waive fines for billionaires, build Garagezillas, and hand TIFs, TDDs, and myriad other tax abatements to the Big Ol' Boys so they can build $600,000 condos downtown and pay no taxes on all their profits.

"Shovel! Shovel! Shovel!" the city manager yelled from a bullhorn in his new spotlight-equipped 4WD SUV. "I want to see you people out shoveling! And stop yer gripin.'. Your street isn't on our plow list. We have to reserve THAT for Mr. Stanley."

"Sorry Mr. Matthes. We'll shovel better next time. We're just tired and all, see. We're broke. My husband just lost his job, see."

"I don't wanna hear it! Get that snow shoveled pronto or we'll condemn this house to build another Garagezilla!"

"That's okay Mr. Matthes. Just please, please don't sick Mr. Boeckmann on us. Or Mr. Glascock. Pleaaassseee!"

NEXT TIME: City Hall introduces new ordinance to force children and old people to shovel the streets, too. Handpicked citizen commission cheers decision. "It's only right that we all do our part," commissioner proclaims. Plows spotted heading to Kroenke estate.

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