HALLOWELL — A proposed snow removal ordinance has been moved to a third and final reading, but it may undergo wholesale changes before then.

The second reading was approved Tuesday by the City Council in a 5-2 vote, with Councilors Kara Walker and Lisa Harvey-McPherson in opposition. A public hearing about the proposal lasted over an hour, as downtown property and business owners took turns criticizing the language for a number of reasons.

The draft ordinance, aimed to make Hallowell traversable in the winter, states that downtown commercial property owners “shall remove snow from the sidewalk in such a manner as to clear the entire length and width of the sidewalk within twelve hours after snow has ceased to fall or City sidewalk plows have run, whichever is later, and shall thereafter keep the sidewalk clear of snow, including snow placed on the sidewalk as a result of subsequent snow removal by the City.”

Many business owners already clear their walk after snowstorms, but there is no ordinance that mandates that.

Snow could be piled on curbs for later removal by the city, per the draft ordinance. If a portion of the sidewalk is iced over for six hours, the property owner must remove the ice.

Property locations encompassed by the ordinance are the city-owned portion of Front Street, the entire length of Temple Street and Perley’s Lane, and downtown portions of Water, Academy, Union, Central and Second streets.

Residential property owners — defined as those with a building with “one to four” residential units — are exempt from snow removal standards, according to the draft.

The ordinance also requires property owners to install fenders on any portion of roof that faces those streets to “protect persons and property from injury from snow and ice sliding from such roofs.”

A violation of the ordinance could result in warnings or a $250 fine. City Manager Nate Rudy could issue a suspension of the ordinance in the event of multiple snowstorms in a short time frame.

Kim Gleason, who owns property on Second Street, asked councilors if they had considered that the ordinance could put liability on property owners if someone slips and falls in front of their property. She said a lawyer she retained read the ordinance and expressed the same concern.

Councilor Diano Circo, chairman of the council’s protection subcommittee, who reviewed the ordinance, and Mayor Mark Walker said two attorneys, one retained by the city and one from the Maine Municipal Association, did not interpret the ordinance to shift liability to the property owners.

Resident and attorney Susan Farnsworth said she thinks the ordinance proposal places an “affirmative duty” on property owners and that, in turn, leaves them vulnerable to a lawsuit. Mayor Mark Walker, also an attorney, said that any attorney could read the ordinance differently and alluded to the idea that no ordinance is in place currently to shift liability away from a property owner if someone was injured on their property.

Mercedes Knee, owner of the Hallowell Antique Mall, at the corner of Water Street and Temple Street, said the amount of work she would be in charge of would be a large expense for her company. She estimated clearing sidewalks along that corner would cost her about $150 every snowstorm, or about $1,200 a season.

“That is a lot of sidewalk to shovel in a big storm (and) we never wanted (the sidewalk) to begin with,” she said. “It’s a beautiful job, but they’ve created a monster for us.”

John Merrill, owner of Merrill’s Bookshop, said he shovels his sidewalk regularly after storms, but he said the ordinance is written to leave him responsible for the large buildup of snow along and on the curb after plowing,

“The minute I get to the store after the storm, I grab a shovel,” he said. “But I can’t do anything about 3 feet of snow on the curb.”

Circo said the city would be flexible in situations like the one Merrill mentioned. He added that the ordinance is written vaguely to give the city a framework to enforce penalties on downtown property owners that annually cause problems for walkers by not maintaining their portion of the sidewalk. He said the intention was not to crack down on every business in every situation — or act as “the snow police.”

“The goal here isn’t for the city to be unreasonable,” he said. “Right now, I don’t want to name the exact locations, but I can’t go with my 4-year-old because they slide around.

“This gives the city the ability to deal with it,” he added. “We’re not trying to get at being the snow police.”

Some business owners who were not open for business daily took issue with the 12-hour time frame. If a shop owner took a weekend off or was not open during a snowstorm, the draft ordinance, as written, could leave them on the hook for snow removal. Councilors were open to shifting the time frame but did not change it before approving the second reading.

A number of property owners spoke up to say they felt they were being punished by the ordinance because of a few problem areas. Councilor Michael Frett said the rules have to apply to everyone downtown, so there is a need to create a fair process of enforcement.

Some residents floated hiring another public works employee, but Walker and the council were largely opposed.

“We have a budget and we try to live within that budget,” Walker said. “We have four public works employees and … I don’t think we’re looking as a city to hire more public works employees.”

Councilor-Elect Maureen Aucoin said the ordinance should not be approved if the city does not intend to enforce it widely.

“You say it’s a tool for discussion, (but) from a code enforcement point of view, that’s not true,” she said. “If you’re not intending to enforce any of this, don’t put it in as an ordinance.”

Harvey-McPherson said she thought the ordinance was crafted backward. She said the ordinance should lay out dangerous conditions instead of leaving them up to interpretation.

Circo said the ordinance was crafted vaguely to leave room for interpretation and there would be push-back no matter how the policy was crafted. Rudy said the ordinance has the “minimum amount of language” to be enforceable.

While the bulk of the comment was in opposition of the ordinance as written, Mark Walker said in October, he said there was “strong support” for an ordinance written in a “reasonable manner.”

The Protection Committee was ordered to take another look at the ordinance before a third and final reading. A number of councilors also suggested looking at other cities and towns with snow removal ordinances and see how they have been enforced. Circo expressed interest in pushing the ordinance through sooner rather than later because winter is looming.

The next regular City Council meeting is scheduled for Dec. 10.

Sam Shepherd — 621-5666

[email protected]

Twitter: @SamShepME

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