Residents cited for failing to shovel the grass
Residents cited for failing to shovel the grass
PAWTUCKET - For 20 years, Greg Medeiros has had the same routine for each snowstorm. He clears his driveway, then the sidewalk along the Lincoln Avenue side of his home, then he moves on to some neighbors' driveways.
Medeiros said he was shocked this month to receive a notice in the mail citing him for failing to remove snow, not from his driveway or the sidewalk, but from the grass running the length of the front side of his corner property on Parker Drive. The penalty for the violation is $25.
Medeiros lives just up the road from Fallon Memorial School, an elementary school that gets plenty of students walking to it. He said he's always taken his responsibility to keep the sidewalk clear on the Lincoln Avenue side so students aren't forced to walk in the road.
Never has he been told that clearing was also required along Parker Drive, said Medeiros, and never has he seen students walking along that cut-through road from Lincoln Avenue to Cedarcrest Drive.
"If they wanted us to do the grass, a warning would have been nice," he said. "We don't have a problem doing it if they tell us they want us to do it."
Medeiros said that for city officials to send out fines to residents, with no advance warning, was especially surprising given the inconsistencies he's seen with the enforcement of the city's snow shoveling ordinance. He has pictures of city sidewalks that are routinely left covered in snow.
Members of Mayor Donald Grebien's administration say that about 250 properties have been cited this winter for failure to remove snow from sidewalks. That's a sharp increase from last year, when The Breeze reported in March that five properties, four of them businesses, had been cited to that point.
Since a City Council meeting last week, Pawtucket's rules on snow clearing that are posted on the city website have been updated to include the broader definition of what city officials now consider to be sidewalks.
"The definition of a sidewalk is broader than the traditional image of a paved walkway," state the rules. "A sidewalk can also include unpaved areas along the lateral line of a roadway. A sidewalk in technical terms is the edge of the roadway to the edge of the right-of-way, which extends beyond the edge of pavement and into the front or side yard. Even if there is not a constructed concrete sidewalk in front of your house or business, the property owner is still required to provide a sufficient path for safe pedestrian travel."
City Councilor Terry Mercer told his colleagues that Medeiros and many other residents were not properly informed of rules that changed about six years ago. It did not appear that the website had caught up with the law at the time they were cited, he said.
It's too bad that residents like Medeiros, "good citizens" who were "never before held to that standard," would be cited with a fine when there are "so many other areas" of the city where sidewalks remained covered, said Mercer.
He doesn't believe code enforcement officials were acting in a "nefarious way" by targeting the Lincoln Avenue neighborhood, said Mercer, but he does believe they need to be more consistent with their enforcement. The sidewalk between McCoy Stadium and Jenks Jr. High School remained uncleared even as Medeiros and his neighbors were being cited, said Mercer.
Tony Pires, director of administration for Grebien and the city's public safety director, said he has the "ultimate responsibility to keep streets and roads safe for pedestrians, and part of that is "making sure these ordinances are enforced."
Zoning Director Shaun Logue and others recognize that "enforcing existing statutes" on snow removal is a key part of enhancing public safety, said Pires. The big spike in the number of violations is not so much due to officials seeking out properties to cite, said Pires, but about more complaints coming in after an unusual number of snowfalls.
When the complaints come in about a certain area like the Fallon School neighborhood, said Pires, officials respond and act accordingly, but they are "not blitzing" certain neighborhoods just for the sake of enforcement.
As Pires remembers it, the city's snow removal ordinance was originally changed to include clearing snow from dirt and grass after a worker from the U.S. Postal Service was struck by a car back in 2008 after being forced to walk in the street.
Pires said officials are working with residents to address the citations, as "every situation is different" and they don't want to act like the "Gestapo" in enforcing them. A number of fines have already been canceled, he said, as officials have heard from residents about why snow wasn't cleared.
"The main purpose isn't getting the $25, but putting them on notice," he said.
Pires said it would be up to City Council members if they want to review the city's snow removal ordinance and make changes to it. The Grebien administration would be open to revisions, he said.
Medeiros told The Breeze he's hoping that his district councilman, Mercer, will have his citation taken care of before he has to go to municipal court, where he's worried that even if his $25 ticket is canceled, he might have to pay $30 in court fees.