(Continued from previous page)
Homeowners may be required to clear snow off sidewalks
by Theodore Kim
Gazette Staff Writer
Jan. 24, 2001
Ah, the arduous winter ritual that aches the muscles and reddens the nose.
If Montgomery County lawmakers have their way, that age-old task may become the law.
The County Council is considering a bill that would require all property owners -- including those in single-family homes -- to clear away snow and ice from public walkways and parking areas that border their property.
Violators would be given a warning first, then fined $50 if the snow is not cleared within 24 hours. In addition, failure to plow blocked handicapped parking spaces would carry a $100 penalty. It has not been decided which county agency would enforce the ordinance.
If approved by the council, the bill would expand a current county law that requires businesses and multifamily complexes to clear paths between building entrances, parking areas and bus stops.
County Councilman Philip M. Andrews -- co-sponsor of the legislation along with Councilmen Isiah Leggett and Steven A. Silverman -- said the ordinance would protect pedestrians who are often forced to walk on the street because of snow- and ice-clogged walkways.
Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg said he did not know how many pedestrians had been injured or killed this winter because of snow-covered sidewalks. Last year, 16 people died in pedestrian-related traffic accidents, according to county police statistics.
"It's not meant to be a heavy-handed law," Andrews said Monday. But if snow removal is "voluntary, results are usually spotty at best."
He said many municipalities (Rockville, Gaithersburg, Takoma Park, Poolesville, Chevy Chase Village) and neighboring jurisdictions (Prince George's and Howard counties, Washington, D.C.) already have similar laws on the books.
"Montgomery County is playing catch-up," Andrews said Tuesday at a news conference in the Rockville council building. "We're not the leaders here."
Leggett (D-At large) of Burtonsville agreed, calling the bill "long overdue."
"This is a matter of safety," he said.
Under the legislation:
*Penalties for homeowners would be limited to one per snowfall so vacationing residents do not return home to a mountain of fines.
*The county executive, in the event of a massive snowstorm or disastrous situation, would be able to extend the 24-hour clearing period.
*If plows reblanket the sidewalks with snow, homeowners would have another 24 hours to dig out.
*For hardened snow and ice that is difficult to remove, residents would be allowed to spread sand, salt or other abrasives.
Andrews said the county may set up a pool of volunteers or workers to aid elderly, disabled and other residents who would be unable to comply with the ordinance. That proposal, however, is still on the drawing board and not a part of the bill.
For now, the legislation seems to carry broad support from school officials, civic groups and organizations representing people with disabilities.
Gail Melson, a delegate for the County Council of Parent Teacher Associations, said that until she can electronically beam her kids to school, "I will continue to support laws that improve pedestrian safety."
Judith Docca, principal of Argyle Middle School in Silver Spring, said about 300 of her students walk to school every day. Many of them walk along Bel Pre Road, a bustling thoroughfare whose sidewalks often remain unplowed, she said.
"That's a danger for students who aren't paying attention to how fast the cars are whizzing by," Docca said at the news conference.
Gaithersburg resident Cynthia Buddington, a member of the county Commission on People with Disabilities, said the ordinance would greatly aid wheelchair users. She said even a glaze of snow or ice on sidewalks makes maneuvering difficult.
"When you're in a wheelchair, you really can't go through snow and ice," she said. "It limits where you can go in the community. Sometimes, you're just stuck."
(Continued on next page)