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September 18, 2013

Requirements to blow snow off sidewalks could change

By Terry Oparka
C & G Staff Writer

In an effort to figure out what’s feasible and what’s not with regard to clearing snow off city sidewalks, the Troy City Council listened to city staff explain current ordinances and the costs for city contractors to clear snow from sidewalks around town.

Troy City Manager Brian Kischnick said the Sept. 9 study session was an attempt to “drill down” to what the issues are and “what’s feasible and what’s not.”

Paul Evans, the city’s zoning and compliance officer, explained to the council that before the city cut staff in 2010, city workers cleared snow from some sidewalks adjacent to roadways, including some walkways next to streets that abut residential and commercial property.

The city transferred that responsibility to residents and business owners in the wake of the budget cuts in 2011. About 700 residential parcels back up to major roads, and about 20 miles of sidewalks are adjacent to rear yards.

Residents on Caliper, in the Troy Estates, near Wattles and Coolidge, spoke to the council before the study session with regard to letters the city sent to them in January. The letters stated that city ordinance requires the snow and ice on the sidewalk abutting the public sidewalk on Wattles, behind their property, be removed within 12 hours after a snowfall or by 6 p.m. the following day, if the snow stops during the night.

Further, the letters stated that future violations would prompt the city contractor to remove the snow and ice at the residents’ cost, and that unpaid costs would become a lien against the property.

Lawrence Raniszeski, who said he was speaking for residents in the Troy Estates, sent a letter to the city manager’s office saying that when residents moved into their neighborhood 20 years ago, they were assured by city officials that the city would keep the sidewalks behind the rear yards of their homes abutting Wattles and Coolidge clear of snow and ice.

Further, the letter states that most of the 23 residents in that subdivision who received the letters did not have access to the sidewalks in question and that the city ordinance was not clear.

However, Troy City Attorney Lori Grigg Bluhm told the council that the city ordinance in question is “very common in a lot of municipalities.”

The ordinances currently state that all snow and ice should be removed from sidewalks in the times stated, which works out, generally, to be within 24 hours.

The cities of Southfield, Madison Heights and Clawson require residents to remove snow from sidewalks adjoining their property within 24 hours, and those who do not comply must pay contractor costs to remove snow. Sterling Heights residents are required to clear sidewalks of ice and snow within 24 hours, but they are not responsible for clearing snow on sidewalks on main roads behind their property.

Running the numbers

The cost for contractors to remove snow and ice from all public sidewalks — 526 miles — when snowfall is less than 6 inches would be more than $334,662 per snow event, and $459,917 for snowfall higher than 6 inches per snow event. Costs to remove snow from all sidewalks adjacent to main roads — just fewer than 141.5 miles —  is $90,022 per event for fewer than 6 inches and $123,714 for snowfall higher than 6 inches. 

The cost to clear snow and ice from sidewalks adjacent to homes backing up to main roads  — slightly more than 20 miles — would be $12,890 for snow of fewer than 6 inches and $17,147 for snowfall higher than 6 inches.

The cost for contractors to clear snow from sidewalks that back up to main roads in the Caliper neighborhood — 2,802 feet — would be $338 for snow fewer than 6 inches per event and $464 for snow higher than 6 inches per event. That breaks down to $14 per Caliper resident for snow fewer than 6 inches per snow storm and $19 for snowfall higher than 6 inches, per snowstorm.

Evans said there were 31 snowstorms fewer than 6 inches and two snowstorms where more than 6 inches fell last year.

Evans presented the council with options to address the issue, including changing the code to a specific depth of snow, and allowing residents and business owners more time to remove snow and ice. Also, homeowners could employ private contractors. 

“The intent was to present as much information as possible,” Evans said.

He added that the zoning and compliance department acts in a reactive fashion in response to complaints, rather than actively seeking any violations to the ordinance.

“We can’t do all of them,” said Troy Mayor Pro Tem Wade Fleming with regard to city sidewalks.

“We can’t do Caliper without doing everybody else in Troy,” said Mayor Dane Slater. “We don’t expect residents to clear sidewalks every time.”

He added that the ordinance should not be vague.

“I do think we need to clean it up,” said Council member Maureen McGinnis.

The Council requested more information from city staff with the intention of considering any possible changes to the snow ordinances before the snow flies, with a target meeting date in October. They want to know the difference between sending snowplows out on city streets when snowfall is higher than 3 inches, rather than the current 4-inch threshold; to explore different standards for plowing major roads versus residential streets; and the effect of changing the ordinance to allow residents up to 48 hours to remove snow and ice from walkways.

Bluhm said the Council would likely study the matter once more before considering any proposed changes to ordinances. 

“We want to bring it back as soon as we can,” Bluhm said.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Terry Oparka at toparka@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1054.