HALLOWELL — Commercial property owners could face new regulations about handling snow this winter.

A draft ordinance discussed this week could shift the burden of snow clearance to Hallowell’s downtown commercial property owners, as well as require them to install fenders on portions of roofs that face the street.

The first reading of three before the ordinance becomes part of the city charter was approved unanimously.

According to City Manager Nate Rudy, the ordinance was drafted to make sure the sidewalks are clear and roof fenders are installed for safety reasons and to help keep the city’s businesses accessible to patrons.

“Our goal is to make sure the sidewalks are safe, and ice and snow are removed for the benefit of all users,” he said. “This ordinance applies specifically to the downtown district, with fenders facing a street where the snow might come off the roof in the street.”

Rudy said he spoke with City Solicitor Amy Tchao about the proposed ordinance before going to councilors with the first draft.

The standards of snow removal, according to the ordinance draft, apply to commercial property owners “whose property is located in the Downtown District … or in any other zoning district that abuts the Downtown District” or abuts streets identified in the ordinance. Those streets include downtown portions of Water, Academy, Union, Central, Winthrop and Second streets, as well as the entire length of Perley’s Lane and Front and Temple streets.

Those owners must remove snow from the entire length and width of the sidewalk in front of their business “within twelve hours after snow has ceased to fall or City sidewalk plows have run.” The snow could be piled on curbs for removal by the city, Rudy said. The newly constructed sidewalks vary in width, however, so the sidewalk plow might not be effective as it previously was downtown.

“Some places (the sidewalk) is wider; other places it’s much more narrow,” Rudy said.

Another section of the ordinance covers dangerous snow or ice buildup. The city will require the ice be removed “immediately after the commercial property owner is made aware that a threatening condition occurs or … within four hours after a City official has verbally or in writing notified the commercial property owner of the condition.”

No business owners were on hand to speak at the Tuesday meeting about the draft ordinance, but a couple reached after them meeting indicated it would have little effect on them — because they’re already clearing snow from their sidewalks.

Dom’s Barber Shop owner Patti Burnett said she didn’t know much specifically about the new ordinance, but she always has shoveled the portion of the sidewalk in front of the shop.

John Merrill, owner of Merrill’s Bookshop, has shoveled snow in front of all three downtown locations in which he has had stores since 1991. He said the slope of his building’s roof shifts snow toward Front Street rather than Water Street, so he doesn’t have as much of a problem with falling ice or snow.

“We have less of a problem with that here,” he said. “It’s the icicles that cause the most concern (downtown).”

He said while his building is less susceptible to runoff problems, fenders could help prevent buildup of ice on the road by diverting runoff from melted ice away from the sidewalks where it could refreeze. Merrill added that he hopes the city’s level of diligence with snow removal remains consistent with that of previous years.

“Hopefully the city isn’t going to downgrade their response,” he said. “You can tell the landlords to shovel, but the city has to come along and do the actual snow removal.”

The ordinance does not apply to residential property owners downtown, though the original draft considered by the council’s protections committee did include such provisions. Councilor Diano Circo, chairman of that committee, said its members were not in favor of language that put some burden on residential property owners downtown. When that language was omitted, though, the committee believed the ordinance would be a first step to holding commericial property owners accountable for dangerous conditions around their buildings.

“The committee was much more comfortable with (the new draft),” Circo said. “Everyone acknowledges that we had issue with ice problems downtown — people falling and the concern about ice from buildings.

Mayor Mark Walker asked Rudy if the language in the proposed ordinance was taken from another city’s. Rudy said Portland’s ordinance was used as a model.

“We vetted the Portland ordinance about six or eight years ago and said it would not fit for Hallowell,” said Walker, a former councilor. “I don’t like this at all, and I am supportive of having snow removal.”

Walker said he didn’t support the notion of requiring commercial property owners on downtown streets to install fenders on their property’s roof.

“We talked about having fenders before and voted it down,” he said. “I’m in favor of a modest requirement that sidewalks are cleaned.”

Walker also asked why Front Street was included, as there are a lot of private walkways on which to require fenders and snow removal. The city has a right of way on and plows the section of Front Street north of Wharf Street, but not the southerly portion.

“The private part of Front Street from Wharf Street south, you will have a war,” he said. “That would be a huge change for those landowners.”

Rudy said he did not know why it was included and would be comfortable with any edits suggested by the council. Circo said fenders the city’s charter already requires fenders. He also mentioned that Front Street doesn’t have any sidewalks, so the proposed ordinance largely would not affect the private walkways.

Walker said a commercial property owner could shift the burden to their lessee for snow removal.

He said “a number of merchants” do a good job of clearing their sidewalk, but even one property owner can cause inconvenience if the show is not cleared.

“There’s strong support for this in a reasonable manner,” Walker said. “I personally went up and down (Water Street) … and it was pretty welcomed.”

A fine for not complying with the snow removal ordinance was discussed, but an amount of the fine was left blank for further review.

Sam Shepherd — 621-5666

[email protected]

Twitter: @SamShepME

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