A city code that requires sidewalks to be cleared within 24 hours of the end of a snowstorm can cost violators up to $60, even if they are out of town.
The ordinance, which has been in effect for more than 23 years in Fort Collins, states that all sidewalks adjacent to the street be shoveled after snowstorms. This does not include pathways up to houses, and only applies once it has stopped snowing.
Robin MacDonald, code compliance inspector for Fort Collins, said this ordinance is important because the sidewalks are something that is used by all Fort Collins residents.
“Picture a person in a wheelchair or a person with a stroller trying to get across sidewalks covered in deep snow,” she said. “It can be a real hazard.”
This ordinance can pose a problem for students during periods such as winter break when they are away from their homes for extended periods of time.
MacDonald said the ordinance still applies during these periods.
“People still walk on the sidewalk during the holidays,” she said. “Some people say that we are cruel for enforcing this over the holidays, but people still need to use the sidewalks.”
MacDonald suggests that students who will be leaving town during times when snow is a possibility make arrangements with their landlord or neighbor.
“Oftentimes landlords live in the city and will have no problem with clearing the sidewalks for their tenants,” she said.
Mike Piel, a junior political science major, and Matt Revercomb, a junior majoring in business, live in a house on Shields, and were fined $45 five times last year for not clearing their sidewalk. One of these incidents occurred while they were out of town.
Piel and Revercomb said the reason they did not clear their sidewalk was because they did not have a shovel. Revercomb feels that residents are not given the supplies necessary to comply with the ordinance.
“If they are going to fine you then they should provide you with a shovel,” he said.
Piel and Revercomb went to extreme measures clear their sidewalks.
“One time to avoid a fine we shoveled the sidewalk with our shoes and a broom,” Piel said.
MacDonald said the code compliance inspectors respond first to complaints, and they generally try to check out the entire block while they are in a specific area.
If a sidewalk is not cleared then a contractor is called in to do the job. The contractor bills the city who adds on an administrative fee then passes the bill on to the property owner.
The minimum fine for a violation is $25 and the prices go up from there depending upon the specific situation. Prices vary based on how much area the contractor has to clear, and how many residents on the same block are in violation.
“If there are a bunch of people together on the same block the cost of the fine is split between them,” MacDonald said. “But the fines can get pretty pricey if it is just one person, especially if they are on a corner lot and it takes the contractor a long time. I have never seen a fine over $60 though,” she said.
Revercomb said the he thinks the main problem with the ordinance is that residents are not given enough warning, and Piel agreed.
“I understand the policy, but I think it’s a little steep,” Piel said. “I think they should do a better job of warning citizens.”
MacDonald said the city attempts to make the ordinance known through a variety of methods. A reminder is placed in the city newsletter that is included with monthly utility bills and in local newspapers after the first snowstorm.
After the first snowstorm, violators’ received reminders on their doors instead of fines, but the next time it snows residents will not be so lucky.
Letters were also sent out to the 75 people that had more than one violation last snow season to remind them of the city code. Piel and Revercomb were one of these and have received no violations yet this year.
Edited by Vince Blaser and Josh Hardin