Montgomery County has received 449 complaints about snow-filled sidewalks and walkways this year, but none have resulted in any consequences for private property owners.
Richard Nelson, director of the Department of Housing and Community Affairs, said the department’s normal practice is to send a letter to the owner of the property in question. County law requires private property owners to remove snow from adjacent sidewalks and walkways within 24 hours of the end of a snow storm.
The DHCA oversees enforcement of the law. At a County Council hearing Tuesday on snow removal this winter, Nelson said the department’s typical practice is to send an inspector to sites of complaints when there is a second complaint.
This winter, Nelson said the DHCA sent inspectors to 40 sites and in each case, the situation had been resolved.
Councilmember Hans Riemer proposed a Sidewalk Snow Removal Plan after that storm, which dumped 12-21 inches of snow throughout the county.
“The idea of kids walking in the street around high schools, that’s still happening. I got reports of that this winter. I got reports of people using motorized wheelchairs in the street, on University Boulevard,” Riemer said Tuesday. “These things are happening and we can do something to improve this.”
Council President Craig Rice had already said the county needs to rely on the 24-hour law and community outreach instead of Riemer’s proposal.
On Tuesday, he said pedestrians need to use common sense when it comes to safety and snow-filled sidewalks.
“What we don’t do a good job of is telling people to stay in place while walking as well. We quickly say don’t drive,” said Rice, when describing the county’s outreach during a snow storm. “It’s not worth your life to go out to 7-Eleven to get a pack of potato chips or whatever it is that they’re doing. If it means that they’re trying to get to work, it’s communication with us.”
Councilmember George Leventhal echoed Rice’s feelings by saying residents should continue to notify the county government of unplowed streets and sidewalks, but should do so while realizing that clearing sidewalks and the county’s roughly 5,000 bus stops isn’t a realistic idea.
“It is not realistic to expect that immediately after a snow storm, conditions are safe,” Leventhal said. “If we’re actually asking for real outcomes and real solutions, I think we also have to acknowledge some rule of reason.”
Councilmember Nancy Navarro expressed support for Riemer’s effort, asking that the county at least come up with a planning process for sidewalk snow removal in future major snow events.
“I don’t think it’s fair to say to people, ‘Just don’t walk,’” Navarro said. “They’re going to walk.”
Nelson said private property owners will often complain that shoveled sidewalks get re-covered with snow when road plows push snow back onto the sidewalks.
“We can think about, particularly for next year, to begin a more visible campaign to alert people to what is in fact required,” Nelson said.