Borough Weighs Plans for Snow Removal, But Does Not Entirely Clear a Path
The twin snowstorms that buried the area last week have created road and sidewalk conditions that have left many residents hoping for warmer days. And regardless of what Punxsutawney Phil forecasts today, winter is still very much upon the region, creating hazardous sidewalks, most notably along the narrower roadways in Princeton Borough.
Borough Council tackled the issue of snow removal last Tuesday, but ran into some snags when it came to just what it means for a business or residence to remove snow from abutting sidewalks. Borough Administrator Robert Bruschi admitted that it was a bit late to be addressing problems posed by this most recent storm, but, in a memo submitted to council before the discussion, he suggested the Borough needed more direction on its enforcement policy for uncleared sidewalks, particularly on the issue of how much time should be allowed before residents are required to clear their pathways.
He also asked Council to "streamline" its current ordinance, making it more specific as to the width of the path made when residents are shoveling a mandate that would differentiate between commercial and private residencies.
"One of the issues that we deal with is that if [a resident] doesn't clear a sidewalk in a big storm similar to what we had, and if we then get an additional storm on top of it, then we're really looking at narrowing down the storage area," Mr. Bruschi said, referring to the area adjacent to a sidewalk that can sustain the cleared snow. He added that in particularly congested areas, like the central business district (CBD), snow is not only plowed, but physically removed because there is no room to store the excess. Mr. Bruschi conceded that clearing all the snow might be onerous to residents with eight- to 10-foot sidewalks, but maintained that it would be "advisable."
The biggest problem outside the CBD, Mr. Bruschi said, is that if one or two residents do not clear their sidewalk, pedestrians may be forced to circumvent the unshoveled area by walking into the street already narrowed by excess plowed snow on the fringes thus creating even more dangerous walking conditions.
The current ordinance in place in the Borough reflects state snow removal guidelines. Clearing must occur within 12 "daylight" hours after snowfall ends. Mr. Bruschi contended that this proviso was somewhat misleading and, depending on when the storm actually ended, could result in too lengthy a delay before Borough police could start enforcing the code.
"If the snow stops at 4 in the afternoon, there's one hour [of daylight] because it's literally dark a little after 5 p.m. That's only one of the 12 hours," he said, arguing that a resident could go "the whole next day" without shoveling and still satisfy the mandates put forth in the Borough code.
He added that by the time police issue a warning on the third day, residents would have until the fifth day to clear a sidewalk. "We need to come up with a way to quickly get people out there, give the people their warnings and get the sidewalks clear."
Mr. Bruschi said removing the "guess work" would improve clogged sidewalk situations.
Calling the current municipal statute, which dates back to 1917, "arcane," Borough Attorney Michael Herbert suggested that the Borough could revise what it has on the books to allow for a "warning" or notice to be issued to residents within the 12 hours allowed for snow removal. For example, a warning could be given within six hours of the cessation of snowfall, allowing police to write summonses when the 12 hours are up. "You don't have to wait three days, if you want to change the ordinance: we can do that."
Borough Mayor Joe O'Neill said enforcement should not be so strict on elderly residents, who often contract plowers or employ neighbors to remove snow. He suggested that the Borough establish a "registry" of residents who are unable to shovel their own walks, making them candidates for assistance when there are inordinate amounts of snow. Mr. O'Neill added, however, that he was not sure it would be in the best interest of the Borough to take on that burden, but that it was an idea worth exploring.
"We can enforce whatever we want, but we're dealing with a real issue with real people," he said. But Councilman David Goldfarb asserted that however the Borough decides to handle the law, it needs to be "vigorously enforced."
"All you need is to have one property owner who doesn't shovel their snow and in an hour and half, the snow is trampled to the point where it is virtually impossible to get rid of." In this case, Mr. Goldfarb was largely referring to merchants in the CBD, in a call to get contractors out early-on in a storm.
Mr. Goldfarb used the opportunity to help promote the idea of establishing a Special Improvement District, where business owners are assessed a certain amount to provide maintenance such as snow removal. "You can't count on merchants to do it themselves; they've got to have a mechanism for getting this done."
Fines for lack of snow removal can be as high as $500, Mr. Bruschi said. The Borough was scheduled last night to consider an amended ordinance that would require property owners to create a three-foot wide path along covered sidewalks within a 24-period after the end of snowfall. That discussion occurred after Town Topics presstime.