City council plows through snow removal suggestions
BY SUSIE CURRIE AND PAULA MINAERT — Even before Hurricane Sandy was a gleam in a meteorologist’s eye, some Hyattsville residents were worried about the coming of this winter’s snowy weather. In September, the Code Enforcement Advisory Committee and the Aging in Place group met together to talk about the city’s policy on snow removal, and the difficulties it presented in Snowmageddon, the February 2010 blizzard that ultimately dropped more than 54 inches of snow on the D.C. area.
This month, the city council has taken up the issue, which is of particular concern for seniors. Many of them have a problem with the city’s custom of plowing the streets curb-to-curb whenever possible. That meant, in 2010, that cars parked on the street were often encased in snow, while sidewalks cleared by residents were refilled with snow plowed from the streets. That made it difficult to comply with the city’s requirement that sidewalks be cleared within 24 hours after a snowstorm.
Pat Yinkey, who is head of the Snow Committee for Hyattsville Aging in Place, lives in a corner house on 42nd Avenue. He estimates that during the last of the 2010 snows, which was 33 inches, he was being told by the city to shovel 127 inches of snow.
“At 72, I’m being asked to remove that from 235 linear feet of sidewalk,” he said.
Another resident, Cate Devereaux, lives at a T-intersection that was, in 2010, essentially double-plowed … right into her front yard. “I had to miss a day of work, because I couldn’t get out,” she said. It was the first time that had happened in her 40 years in Hyattsville.
Lisa Walker, head of Hyattsville Aging in Place, said the Department of Public Works did a good job in the last storm but, “They made it a problem for people who are older and for all of us by shoveling snow to the sidewalks. I come from upstate New York. There, you just assume there will be pedestrians on the streets and everything would slow down. Now we have an attitude about plowing that it’s about automobiles. I think it should be about people too.”
Jim Chandler, Director of Community and Economic Development, pointed out in a later interview that making sure emergency vehicles have access to homes is at the heart of the city’s snow removal efforts. “Everything else is a convenience.”
At its November 5 meeting, the city council explored two new measures involving snow removal. The first would revise the city’s snow ordinance. The current code mandates that residents and businesses whose land borders a public paved sidewalk clear the sidewalk within 24 hours of the snow ending. The revision, crafted by City Attorney Richard Colaresi, would lengthen that time, at the discretion of the relevant city department heads. It also sets out a policy of “voluntary compliance … when feasible.”
Senior Code Inspector Chris Giunta said it would take more than not meeting the 24-hour deadline to get to a fine. “It it’s not plowed, [the resident is] issued warning. The time to comply is not specified but as s practice we give them 24 hours. If the property is still noncompliant and we’re forced to issue a fine, it’s $100 [a day].
A second measure proposed establishing a snow-removal assistance fund for residents 60 and older whose household income is 200 percent below the federal poverty level. One suggestion was that the fund could be administered by a nonprofit.
Shani Warner, Ward 2 Councilmember, had doubts about this idea. “I’d love to see this work,” she said, but as a lawyer, she was concerned about city liability. Tim Hunt (Ward 3) favored an approach that would steer residents to reputable contractors that would charge reasonable rates. The residents, though, would pay for the services.