Get tougher on snow removal ordinance

When the Champaign City Council passed an ordinance last fall that set new rules for property owners to clear their sidewalks soon after a significant snowfall, some worried that the Council was putting an undue burden on area businesses. But in the few instances that the ordinance has been put into effect since, enforcement has been anything but harsh.

The ordinance mandates that property owners in the University and downtown districts have to clear at least a 48-inch path on the sidewalks surrounding their property within 48 hours of a declaration made by the Champaign Public Works director after the area sees a freezing rain, sleet or snowfall greater than 2 inches.

Those who do not comply will face a $100 administration fee plus the cost of a city contractor that will remove the snow from the property. The Daily Illini reported in mid-January that after the most recent snowfall, the city issued 31 violations (out of about 800 property owners), with most of those in the downtown district. But Champaign Property Maintenance Supervisor Susan Salzman said that there was less campus enforcement and that, “We probably could have written several hundred citations.”

With a couple of more snowfalls since then, it’s apparent that Champaign needs to get tough on enforcement and make it easier for citizens to report violators as well as view an online list of those who aren’t keeping their sidewalks clear.

Of course, we don’t want the city of Champaign to become the worst nightmare of those who opposed the ordinance in the first place. Government intrusiveness is certainly a concern, but for the ordinance to be effective – or worth passing to begin with – it has to be enforced.

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If property owners are going to be out of town or encounter other circumstances that prevent them from complying, they should file for an extension and work with the city to get their sidewalks clear. Coupled with heightened enforcement, property owners (including campus landlords) will have to do a better job in keeping the area safe and passable for all.

We hope the area can get to a point where sidewalks are cleared out of common courtesy, not out of deference to an ordinance. But unfortunately, the only way that will happen is if Champaign takes a firm stand after each winter storm and sets a standard that violators can expect in the future. The city should also make an effort to recognize those who have excellent records of compliance with the ordinance.

Otherwise, property owners will continue to drag their feet while pedestrians struggle to stay on theirs.