After languishing in a City Council committee for some nearly 20 months, Lansing’s proposed snow removal ordinance is finally going to be revisited.
At Monday’s Lansing City Council meeting, First Ward City Councilman Eric Hewitt, who chairs the Public Services Committee, announced he has scheduled a hearing for Sept. 1.
His announcement comes after nearly two years of political wrangling and committee inaction over a proposal similar to what is already in place to deal with long grass.
The ordinance seeks to manage unkempt snow like the city does for long grass and weeds, issuing a formal warning after the violation is spotted. A warning would come as a posted notice on the property as well as a written notice in the mail. If there is no response from the property owner within 24 hours of receiving the mail, a work order is placed with the city to clean it up.
The property owner then pays the cost to clean it up. If that “fine” goes unpaid, it is added to the owner’s property tax bill. The City Council would hear appeals to any wrongful assessments at a public hearing.
Council Vice President Kathie Dunbar said it’s time snow removal is addressed in the same manner as grass and weeds due to the amount of foreclosed properties in the city, where inattentive property owners let their snow pile up in the winter. Under the current model, the fine issued usually goes unpaid, she said.
Mayor Virg Bernero’s idea to update the snow removal ordinance began about two years ago strictly as a public safety issue, Randy Hannan, the deputy chief of staff, said.
“This is something much more important than simple aesthetics. It’s about having clear passages in the city and considering the needs of those with disabilities,” he said.
Hannan also said it’s about the city gaining leverage on problem property owners and foreclosed properties that trace back to out-of-state banks, not targeting average citizens.
“A vast majority do take care of their sidewalks,” he said. “This is common sense stuff.”
of the primary concerns by the public about the draft ordinance is that
it unfairly targets those who are unable, either physically or
monetarily, to keep snow shoveled off of their sidewalk.
about those people?” asked Dayle Benjamin, who raised concerns at the
last public hearing on the ordinance, in February 2009, and still has
them today. “There’s a loophole there for the city.”
He added that the city should be focusing its efforts on keeping secondary streets plowed in the wintertime.
John Lindenmayer, associate director for the League of Michigan
Bicyclists, said it is important to remember that this ordinance is
meant to benefit those residents who have difficulties moving around and
that keeping snow shoveled is a matter of personal responsibility.
same people are most affected when the sidewalks aren’t cleared,” he
said. “In the end it’s the responsibility of that homeowner or business
owner (to keep snow cleared).”
took photographs last winter of some of the more “offensive” instances
along East Michigan Avenue and East Kalamazoo Street — his “regular
route.” In some cases business owners were plowing their driveways and
leaving the piles of snow on the sidewalk. “There were some doozies, for
sure,” he said.
Lindenmayer went on to share those photos with City Council and is excited to see this ordinance move to the discussion phase.
who has seen this piece of legislation through since day one, says
those concerns have been addressed through an appeals process and
special assessments the city is willing to make with property owners who
feel unfairly targeted.
said that time is of the essence to get it passed because there is
grant money available until December that funds the outreach of letting
the public know what is going on.
“It’s the perfect synergy to reach vulnerable people,” she said.
Ward City Councilwoman Jessica Yorko said this is all about keeping the
city aligned with “complete streets,” where bicyclists, walkers and
those with disabilities can freely travel about.
political saga began in February 2009 after a public hearing at a City
Council meeting generated mostly negative attention from the public.
Later that evening, the proposed ordinance was sent to the Public
Services and Public Safety committees to discuss, work out concerns from
citizens and eventually come back before the Council for a vote.
chair of the Public Services Committee then, Dunbar said it sat there
because there wasn’t five votes, the necessary majority, from the
Council to pass any form of the ordinance. That changed after the 2009
election when Second Ward Councilwoman Tina Houghton and Yorko joined
the Council, assuring Dunbar five votes to pass the ordinance.
Hewitt took over the Public Services Committee in January and has not
discussed the item publicly since. Between other items of business (like
the city’s fiveyear master plan and a new budget), Hewitt said he has
worked with the City Attorney’s Office on his own time reworking the
draft. He scoffs at the accusations by Dunbar and Yorko that it has been
sitting in committee, held as a sort of political leverage.
wasn’t me sitting on this thing,” Hewitt said. “I have been working
with the legal department so any provisions put in the ordinance will be
City Attorney Brigham Smith confirmed by e-mail that he worked with Hewitt on changes to the ordinance.
said his changes are aimed at making sure a homeowner has adequate time
to clear the walk and that senior citizens are protected. A draft of
Hewitt’s changes was not immediately available.
said that under her proposal, the process provides four to five days.
If the snowfall is Sunday, the city would probably not shovel before
Friday, she said.
who sits on the Public Services Committee (which hasn’t met since
spring) with Hewitt and At-Large Councilman Brian Jeffries, has not seen
any of Hewitt’s changes to the ordinance. She chides Hewitt for not
working with the rest of the committee and taking nine months to
publicly discuss the ordinance.
could have gestated and birthed a child in that time,” she said,
wide-eyed. Following the meeting, Yorko revealed that had Hewitt not
brought the ordinance forward for discussion Sept. 1, she intended to
make a motion to pull it out of his committee, which takes six of the
eight Council votes to do.
Hewitt said this is just his legislative style.
not strong on having too many cooks in the kitchen,” he said. “I don’t
legislate by committee. But to say it (the ordinance) is dead — no,
that’s not true.”