Fayette County

Sidewalk shoveling scofflaws could face new rules in Lexington

Since the sidewalks were covered with snow, Erie Douglas walked in the street with her 6-year-old grandson Christopher Hough on Elm Tree Lane in Lexington on Feb. 20, 2015.
Since the sidewalks were covered with snow, Erie Douglas walked in the street with her 6-year-old grandson Christopher Hough on Elm Tree Lane in Lexington on Feb. 20, 2015. cbertram@herald-leader.com

The Lexington council is moving forward with changes to a 1979 ordinance requiring homeowners and businesses to shovel sidewalks after a major snowstorm.

The Urban County Council’s Planning and Public Works Committee voted 6 to 1 Tuesday in favor of an ordinance that would give people 24 hours after a snowstorm of more than two inches to shovel and clear sidewalks.

The ordinance will now go to the full council for a vote. A final vote won’t come for several weeks.

Councilman Jake Gibbs, who represents much of downtown, asked for the changes to the ordinance after getting multiple complaints from pedestrians who couldn’t walk on city sidewalks during major snowstorms the last two winters. The city’s current ordinance needed updating because it was cumbersome and difficult to enforce, said Ken Armstrong, the director of code enforcement.

The current ordinance gives people only four hours after a snowfall to clear sidewalks. Failure to do so is a criminal misdemeanor with a fine of between $5 and $100 per day.

Currently, Lexington police are responsible for investigating a complaint. During and after major snowstorms, police are busy with traffic and other duties, Armstrong told the committee Tuesday.

There were other problems with the ordinance. Four hours after a snowfall ended was difficult to define. It also didn’t give people much time to clear sidewalks. It was rarely enforced, Armstrong said.

Under the proposed changes, failure to clear sidewalks would be a civil penalty. The city would post on its website the time a snow ended. Complaints will be investigated by code enforcement 24 hours after the snow stopped falling. Homeowners and businesses would first be given a warning. Then they would have another 24 hours to clear the sidewalk, Armstrong said.

“That gives people a minimum of 48 hours,” Armstrong said.

No notice of violation would be issued if the city had not yet plowed the street.

The ordinance also allows the mayor to temporarily suspend the ordinance. So if there is extreme weather — such as days of snow or dangerously low temperatures — the ordinance would not be enforced.

Armstrong said enforcement would be driven by complaints. The city has no plans of patroling to determine if residents and businesses had shoveled sidewalks.

The city has averaged about 37 complaints regarding covered sidewalks over the past three years, Armstrong said.

“In most cases, the snow is going to melt within 24 hours,” Armstrong said.

Some on council questioned Tuesday how the ordinance would be enforced.

Councilman Russ Hensley said he knows someone who lives downtown who shoveled their sidewalks. Those sidewalks were covered again when city snow plows came through the street. Would that person still be cited?

Armstrong said that code enforcement officers would look at each instance and the circumstances.

“Ultimately, common sense has to play a part as well,” Armstrong said.

The fine for failing to clear sidewalks would be $100.

Other questions involved people who are elderly or disabled and not able to shovel their sidewalks. Armstrong said the city is looking at addressing that issue.

Councilman Bill Farmer Jr. was the only member of the committee to vote against the changes. Farmer said the city had only recently implemented a plan to clear its own sidewalks. That plan also included buying additional snow-clearing equipment. Farmer said the city should not make changes to its own ordinance without first ensuring it was clearing its own sidewalks.

Gibbs said he felt the committee should move the ordinance to the full council so it can be vetted before the first snowfall. People need time to understand the changes, he said. The ordinance is not new, he said.

“This ordinance has been around since 1979,” Gibbs said. “I think the city has made significant improvements in the last year.”

Beth Musgrave: 859-231-3205, @HLCityhall