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Subcommittee Sends Residential Snow Shoveling Bylaw to Town Council for Consideration

The bylaw would require all residential properties to clear snow from their sidewalks after a snowstorm; details must still be worked out.

The Town Council will consider making a bylaw requiring residents to remove snow from the sidewalk in front of their homes after the Public Works subcommittee approved the requirement by a 2-1 vote during a contentious meeting Tuesday night.

The bylaw, which right now has no deadline to shovel or penalty, will must be approved by the Town Council before it goes into effect.

Snow shoveling ordinances have been considered at least four times, and each time it was voted down before going to the Town Council. This year, the Commission on Disabilities requested a bylaw be passed to make it easier for the disabled, elderly and others can walk on sidewalks after a snow storm.

Town Council Vice President Steve Corbett brought forward a proposal, which would have required residential property owners to clear a 36-inch wide path the entire length of the sidewalk in front of their property within 24 hours of the end of a storm. Those that fail to do so could be fined $50 per storm.

The town already has an ordinance requiring private properties in business districts to clear their sidewalk.

Watertown would be far from the first community to adopt a residential snow shoveling requirement, Corbett said. There are now 22 communities in the Boston area that require residents to clear sidewalks.

"This policy is most appropriate in a densely settled, semi-urban community where people walk and use public transportation," Corbett said.

There may be more incentive, Corbett said, because the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently ruled there is increased liability if someone gets injured when a property owners "don't use reasonable care to maintain their property by clearing snow from the sidewalk."

Town Councilor Susan Falkoff, the one vote against the rule, said she used to support the idea of having a requirement for residents to remove snow, but she recently changed her mind.

She prefers focusing on educating people about why they should clear sidewalks in front of their property, and possibly finding a way to sell discounted shovels.

Several residents showed up to oppose the requirement. Gail Boyd said her property is on the corner, and there is no room in front of her home to put snow.

"Mandatory snow removal and threat of a fine is unfair and unreasonable," Boyd said.

Town Councilor Angeline Kounelis, who is not on the Public Works Committee, said she wants to see sidewalks cleared, but she does not like the idea of fining those who do not do it.

Resident Russ Arico said he has seen this proposed numerous times, and said the subcommittee should reject it.

"Forced shoveling creates more problems than it solves," Arico said.

Some communities with residential snow bylaws allow people to apply for exemptions, including if they are disabled, elderly, or if there is financial hardship.

Falkoff noted that in Cambridge the Public Works Department clears sidewalks of elderly who residents who can not clear their sidewalks on their own. In Watertown, however, the public works department does not have the resources to do that, said Public Works Superintendent Gerald Mee.

Perhaps scouts, middle or high school students or church groups could volunteer to clear sidewalks of the elderly and disabled, Falkoff suggested.

Town Council President Mark Sideris said he worries about enforcing such a bylaw by the Police Department.

Corbett said he wanted the subcommittee to vote on it to allow the full Town Council to discuss it, and if it approved, the Public Works Committee can discuss the details later.

Along with sending the residential snow removal ordinance to the Town Council to consider, the subcommittee also voted to have the Police Department encourage people to clear snow off sidewalks in their robocalls, and put out a newsflash.

Karen December 01, 2011 at 02:52 PM
I walk to the bus each morning, as well as walking my dog, and am frustrated that people don't shovel in front of their homes. These are the same people who shovel elaborate paths to their cars and their driveways. I think there should be a bylaw -- there's one in Belmont, and it does help. If people are disabled or elderly and can't shovel, they should sign up on a list at town hall, and we can brainstorm about how to help them. Also, I noticed a lot of people don't even bother to do their front steps (because they take the side door to the car...), which makes it hard for the mail to be delivered. Isn't the Post Office able to refuse to deliver if they can't get to the mailbox? I'm not unsympathetic - I've paid for shoveling and done it myself, and it is not fun. But, it's no fun slipping and falling when you're walking to the bus or trying to walk your dog!
MV December 01, 2011 at 04:24 PM
Yes, please pass this law! Please enforce it! I'm young and able-bodied, and it is still sometimes a pain for me to get around in the winter. I can only imagine what it's like for someone who is elderly or handicapped. Oh, and "there's nowhere to put the snow" is a pathetic excuse. Put your mind to it, you'll come up with something. Last winter the snow was terrible, but probably 90% of my neighborhood kept their sidewalks clear. Again, please enforce this. What's the point, if you don't write tickets? They have this rule in Brookline, and yet there are always a few scofflaws who leave a gigantic slippery glacier on the sidewalk.
K Coyne December 01, 2011 at 08:14 PM
I don’t have a problem with a bylaw that states this but it all depends on the details! 1. The details should be spelled out: what are legitimate reasons for not having the paths shoveled?(I can think of a couple), If a resident has a legitimate reason for not getting it done then they should not have to take off work to argue their case, There should be times after 5pm for that. Would there be a warning first? 2. In those cases where there are legitimate reasons(and the resident can’t physically or economically get it done) what does the town do? 3. Can we also ticket the snow plows that cover up the sidewalks? This is done a lot and many times children/adults can’t walk to school unless they get into the street(even though the resident had shoveled their walk sections of it was covered up by a mound of snow). 4. What about the resident who has no more room to shovel, can they get some help? 5. I also don’t want our short-staffed Police officers going around ticketing residents when they can be fighting drugs/other more pressing issues in our town. I can certainly think of a couple homes in which I would love to see them now shovel their sidewalks..But if you have a bylaw it needs to be spelled out and fair to all residents.
Shamus December 01, 2011 at 11:55 PM
Hell no !This is all about revenue not the commision on disabilities which has had this issue on their books for decades. My tax's have been approved to go up another $300.00. I'll now be paying 7G a year. On a recent high school reunion I determined 70% of my graduating class had to move over the years due to the inability to live in their home town. Tax's, Ins ,water & sewer & utilities gas & electric cable. $1,300.00 a month+. This does not include cost of an auto ins & food or even a mortgage. If I was a policeman I would rather drive up and down side streets at 3 am and give out $50.00 tickets,(with out resistance ) than pull people over for driving offensives.
KAB December 04, 2011 at 01:26 PM
This is a tough one. I would love to force the lazy people to do the right thing. You would hope that the people of Watertown have enough sense of responsibility to shovel their sidewalks with out being forced. These are the same people that drive around with a foot of snow on the top of their car. That said, it seems wrong for the town to fine residents for not shoveling what technically is public property. Isn't that forced labor for no pay. Some property owners have no where to put the snow. Snow removal is expensive. People get sick. Then there are the elderly who still live in there own homes. I realize it's too much for the town to handle, but I don't think this is the solution. And it is somewhat suspect that this bylaw is finally going to be enacted during a time when the town is in need of funds.
david brooks December 04, 2011 at 01:57 PM
Would this bylaw also mandate the the town of Watertown shovel/ plow the sidewalks in and around Saltonstall park? The condition they were in last year was a disgrace. And this public land is right next to town hall...all they had to do was look outside their window to see the sidewalks were icy and practically impassable.
Peter DeBishop December 04, 2011 at 02:20 PM
The bottom line is that the WPD will not enforce this ordinance. An ordinance was passed last year to penalize commercial snow removers for dumping snow on the public sidewalks and in the streets. The WPD invariably declined to ticket offenders. "The officer at his discretion decided not to issue a ticket" was the mantra. Translation: The same companies pay $80 and hour for police details, we take care of our own. We are above the law.
Vinnie Dummerino December 04, 2011 at 11:38 PM
This is an extremely bad idea and is going to cause many serious problems and serious legal problems. There is no space to clear the 100 for walk in front on my home except to throw the snow in the street which is illegal as I am up on a hill with a 7 foot wall in front of my house and would have to pay to have the snow hauled away, a huge expense and one that I would sue the town and others over, never mind that i am 69 with severe arthritis and have trouble shoveling but do clear my walk and driveway myself. There are many, many more with situations similar to mine and particularly in east Watertown and what i have to say to those people who complain that they have no place to walk their dog is GET RID OF THE DOG OR SHOVEL YOUR OWN PATH because I am much more important than your dog. I have lived in my neighborhood 40 years and my street cannot clear their walks and we have managed fine during this time. I have also had enough with these special interest groups and the city who continually try to dump responsibilities and cost on the home owner. If you all want clear sidewalks then get the city to clear them. Draw up a plan as to what one side of important streets need to be cleared and then a plan to clear those streets: you do not have to clear both sides. This point is what tells me that this committee and its special interest groups are not really serious about having safe paths in Watertown after SIGNIFICANT storms and are up to something else.
Vinnie Dummerino December 04, 2011 at 11:46 PM
I propose as an amendment to the bylaw that came out of that committee that all Watertown residents between the ages of 16 and 30 be required to do 100 unpaid mandatory shoveling hours clearing side walk snow in Watertown according to a plan devised and supervised by that committee that that they be fined$100 for each unworked hour. That should take care of the problem in short order and particularly for able bodied MV above and he can figure out where to get rid of my snow. My maendment makes as much sense as that committees proposed bylaw.
John MacNeill December 05, 2011 at 11:46 AM
>>those people who complain that they have no place to walk their dog is GET RID OF THE DOG OR SHOVEL YOUR OWN PATH because I am much more important than your dog. It's not about dogs. It's about kids who can't get to school without walking in the street. And the people getting to buses, and their jobs. The Mass. SJC has already ruled that you're liable if a person in injured by your negligence.
Vinnie Dummerino December 05, 2011 at 05:51 PM
let's see those child injury statistics walking to and from school for the last 20 years please; doubt that there are very many (and there are ways to cross confirm police/town/school/advocate records). I live next to any elementary school and very few children walk to school in my neighborhood as every day there are just steams of cars and buses and parents walking students. Hopefully, middle school and high school students have learned enough to be able to walk to and from school in the snow. Again, having a plan to selectively clear side walk paths on one side of the street to schools by the town is very different from this senseless and snob bylaw. Let's hear some sensible proposals and not these kinds of argument and claims that are not born out by facts.
Vinnie Dummerino December 05, 2011 at 06:02 PM
The town council and committee needs to address the key and critical question of "What is snow??" Does a 1/2 inch require cleaning the walk or can children, adults and animals cope with that; an inch, 2 inches what? What is the level of snow that requires clearing and that should be specified; perhaps if only a snow emergency is declared by the town. Next, safety research shows that clearing snow from walks promotes and increases accidents due to accumulated ice and poor vision due to piles. As residents going to be required to police their walks for ice after they clear them and remove piles that create visions problems for small animals? How many residents are going to be happy with their $100 tickets for not clearning a snow dusting and will consider themselves dusted by the bylaw?
John MacNeill December 07, 2011 at 12:00 PM
@let's see those child injury statistics walking to and from school... Yes, please let's all just wait for a child to get killed before you can be bothered to shovel your walk. And on another thread you're against the overnite parking ban? Even suggesting an "occupy" style protest against it? Your user name is well chosen sir troll.
Vinnie Dummerino December 07, 2011 at 02:33 PM
There are 3 medical schools in the area that keep database going back 20 years John on injuries to children by type and location and there are many studies published on what kinds of injuries happen to children at what locations under what conditions. If you knew the research, You would know that injuries to children walking to school in the winter are comparative very rare and that deaths were non-existent and that such snow ban arguments made against them are fallacious and incorrect. You are entitled to your own opinion John but not your own facts and your claims are simply fallacious. Oh, on my name: it's to smoke out ethnic prejudice like yours on issues where facts and logic are the most important criteria. You might try making a factually correct and logically cogent argument on this issues rather name calling and baiting but that is comon to those who have neither
John MacNeill December 07, 2011 at 02:49 PM
@troll, aka Vinnie Good luck to you. As the Mass. SJC has ruled, you're clearly liable for your negligence if anyone is injured because you can't be bothered to shovel your walk.
Peter O'Hardon December 07, 2011 at 03:01 PM
In my humble opinion Vinnie is not a troll in the classic sense, but rather the devil's advocate. He assumes unnatural positions to stimulate debate (among other things). An entertaining and harmless activity that many in the space partake in from time to time.
John MacNeill December 07, 2011 at 03:05 PM
>>ethnic prejudice like yours... Troll.
Vinnie Dummerino December 08, 2011 at 05:36 PM
Name calling is such a convincing argument John. Don't like being called out huh. Who are you shilling for? Or is it that you have it in for that poor neighbor of yours who has no place to put that snow other than that big mound on her or his sidewalk that irritates you so much that you resort to "for the children" arguments (fyi, I am a total advocate of child safety but am also knowledgeable about). If that snow mound in front of your neighbor's house is such a problem and threat to public safety, why doesn't the town help this person out and remove that snow mound? Did you call the town John and ask them to help out your neighbor? Or contractors voluntarily as a public service on school routes or main roads where people walk. Where I grew up, which was a blue collar town like Watertown (but not one with groups looking to gentrify it), groups within the towns such as the Elks organized such neighborly helping mechanisms as did the town. If the ADA (fyi, I have multiple handicaps but know that I must be realistic and accommodate others also) were serious about this issue or problem, then they would work with the town and others on a compromise plan to focus on clearing critical sidewalks for the handicap in town and how to get that done. Otherwise this bylaw is going to be a heyday and a payday for lawyers and snow services providers and insurance companies and not homeowners or renters, but maybe that is what this bylaw is all about.
John MacNeill December 08, 2011 at 05:46 PM
@troll; Listen; just shovel your sidewalk like everyone else does and there won't be a problem.
Peter O'Hardon December 08, 2011 at 05:48 PM
Keep it up gentlemen The heat of your argument will melt the snow and then everyone will be happy
John MacNeill December 13, 2011 at 12:46 PM
Municipal sidewalks? I wasn't able to locate any information on the Town's website, does anyone know if Watertown's residential sidewalks are owned by the town? It makes a difference. The SJC ruling doesn't seem to apply if the adjacent sidewalk isn't owned by the the property owner.
Edie B. December 13, 2011 at 02:07 PM
I would love to know the answer to this. After all, if I own the sidewalk in front of my house, wouldn't that give me the right to tear it up or alter it as I see fit? As absurd as that sounds, to then be required to keep it clear of ice and snow almost sounds as silly as being required to plow the street in front of my house. (Note that we maintain our sidewalks meticulously in the winter ... and we're good neighbors who run our snowblower the entire length of sidewalk in front of abutting homes. But when you think about the practice of clearing sidewalks, the ownership does seem to fall into a gray area.)
Peter O'Hardon December 13, 2011 at 02:31 PM
A better question is why Town Council Vice President Steve Corbett brought forward this proposal. He is already on the bubble for his premature (prior to extracting a sizable "expression of interest") support of the Walmart project. One can only assume this is yet another attempt to extort "non-traditional revenue" from the residents, along with cell towers, replacement trash totes and of course water and sewer fees.
Vinnie Dummerino December 14, 2011 at 01:11 AM
that is exactly what i was trying to point out to you and why the town's sidewalks will not be covered under homeowner policies but the home WILL be responsible if they clear the town's sidewalk and there is an accident. This is a very key issue and point and what I meant by the town is trying to dump the legal burden you you the homeowner never mind that there are just some many areas in east watertown where there is just no place to put the snow and several other factors. But the legal issue and the insurance issue is very big and real.
Vinnie Dummerino December 14, 2011 at 01:15 AM
Edie B is right on the money and it may take a class action suit against the town to stop the current bylaw, Corbett, and get a more sensible plan and solution being discussed, never mind all of the practical factors and concerns about such a senseless bylaw when it is logically examined as Edie has done above.

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