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City cracks down on lazy shovelers

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

With over 35 inches of snow falling in Fox Point in January, residents have complained about the non-enforcement of a city ordinance that requires property owners to remove snow from public walkways, prompting the city council to prepare a new ordinance to respond to this problem.

“There are about four or five more complaints this year than last year,” said Lieutenant John Ryan, commander of Providence Police District 9, which includes Brown and much of the East Side, attributing this increase to higher frequency and volume of snowfall.

According to Ryan, there were 10 houses in total that received complaints, most of which are on Gano, East Transit and Ives streets. Two of the houses are unoccupied and some have student tenants, he said.

Upon receipt of complaints, policemen went to those houses to give informal warnings but did not impose a fine. “We didn’t have any problem with them,” Ryan said, adding that the tenants and landlords of the buildings quickly removed the snow after being informed of the complaints.

“We have more snow this year,” said Daisy Schnepel, president of the Fox Point Neighborhood Association. “We haven’t received a lot of formal complaints, but people do get upset that the city doesn’t take care of its properties.”

A former board member of the neighborhood association brought the issue to the board’s attention about two months ago and they discussed it in a meeting, Schenepel said. The members then reported the problem to the city council.

“On the whole, if there’s a problem, we contact whatever department that deals with it,” Schnepel said. “If the problem is related to the mechanisms of the environment, we tell (the complainants) to contact the councilmen or the Department of Public Works.”

The city council is taking a two-pronged approach to tackle this issue, said Ward 1 Councilman Seth Yurdin. The council is planning to work with local lieutenants to raise awareness of the city ordinance – a “polite way” to remind property owners to remove snow from their adjacent sidewalks, he added.

Additionally, a new ordinance that is designed to be more effective than the current one has been introduced by Ward 4 Councilman Nicholas Narducci, Jr., Yurdin said.

The existing city ordinance requires residents to clear a path at least three feet wide on the sidewalk in front of their house within the first four hours of daylight after a snowfall. Violators may be fined between $25 to $300.

The newly introduced ordinance proposes to increase the fine to up to $500 and keep a record of the properties whose residents violate the ordinance, Yurdin said, adding that this will hold landlords, rather than tenants, responsible for obeying the ordinance.

Currently, police provide a copy of the ordinance to violators, but if a new ordinance is passed, flyers will probably be distributed to all city residents, Ryan said.

Yurdin is supporting the new ordinance and is currently working with four other members of the ordinance committee, the Department of Public Works and local lieutenants to discuss and amend it, he said.

Once the proposal leaves the ordinance committee, it will go to the entire city council for a final vote, Yurdin added.

Even with a new ordinance, educating residents about their responsibilities is still the highest priority. “Once there is more awareness, there is more compliance (and then) enforcement is less important,” Yurdin said.

“Sometimes they just don’t know,” Ryan said. Reminding people is “time consuming, but not a problem.”

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