City updates sidewalk snow removal policy

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The city of Whitefish has updated its ordinance that deals with private removal of snow and ice on sidewalks and shared use paths.

City Council last week approved changes to the ordinance deemed as “housekeeping.” The ordinance requires that businesses and residential owners remove snow from sidewalks and shared use paths in front of their storefront or home.

“Owners are required to keep sidewalks safe and free of snow,” City Attorney Angie Jacobs explained. “We had some questions about shared use paths so that was added to the ordinance to make it clear.”

Shared use paths must be cleared to a width of 5 feet for pedestrian and bicycle traffic. Although some shared use paths are much wider, the city says, it is only necessary to clear them to the same width as a sidewalk.

In addition, the ordinance has been updated to say that the snow and ice must be removed following the night’s accumulation, but does not set an exact time for that to happen. Previously the ordinance said it must be completed by 10 a.m.

Jacobs said the city decided to remove the specific time from the ordinance.

“We were concerned about enforcement of that,” she said. “We also didn’t want to hold others to a standard that the city often can’t meet.”

Councilor Frank Sweeney expressed concerns about residents who might be elderly or disabled and unable to clear the sidewalk or path in front of their home. He pointed to one resident on Seventh Street who in the past has expressed concerns over the requirement.

“She gets concerned that it’s her responsibility and she physically and financially can’t do this,” he said. “We need to search for a more certain solution for those that need it other than our good will — although that has been pretty reliable.”

Jacobs said the goal of the city is not to be punitive in enforcing the ordinance. She noted that owners get multiple warnings before the city takes care of removal and charges the owner, and is willing to work with owners for solutions.

The ordinance allows for the city, if an owner fails to remove snow, to remove the snow and asses the cost to the owner. The owner can also be fined for violating the ordinance.

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