Is it time to update Howard County Code of Ordinances?

sidewalk

I guess I should be more specific – is it time to update Section 18.402 (h)? Here is the wording today:

It shall be the duty and obligation of the owner of property abutting a sidewalk in a public right-of-way to remove snow from the sidewalk within 48 hours after the snow has fallen. In the case of a multiunit building with more than one occupant, it shall be the duty of the lessor to remove the snow unless the lessor has obligated a tenant who is actually occupying the property to do so. Any owner of property abutting a sidewalk in a public right-of-way, lessor of a multiunit building, or tenant obligated by the lessor, who fails to remove the snow from the abutting sidewalk within 48 hours after the snow has fallen shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction thereof, shall be subject to a fine of not less than $25.00 nor more than $50.00. Alternatively or in addition to and concurrent with all other remedies, the Department of Public Works or the Police Department may enforce the subsection with civil penalties pursuant to title 24, “Civil Penalties,” of the Howard County Code. A violation shall be a Class E offense.

This became an issue yesterday when the afternoon before (specifically at 3:40pm on the 24th) the Howard County Government Facebook page issued this information to followers of the account (READ MORE HERE). This caused a major uproar on Facebook with over 130 comments (mostly negative) and another 120 shares. There were at least two bloggers that wrote about the post (Scott E’s Blog and Hedgehog Report).

I give credit to the County Executive (Allan Kittleman), early on the 25th he instructed the staff in Howard County Government to issue an update (and apology) to followers (READ HERE) – the post was published at 9:09am. He also posted that same information on his official government account and his campaign account (both Facebook and Twitter).

And now on to my actual point – the current wording does not anticipate the type of weather event we just encountered and maybe the County Council should look at revising it to be more clear for residents. I fully support the code when we get a few inches of snow. When we get significant snow fall in amounts that it takes MANY days just to get the roads plowed (and I give significant props to all of those hard working men and women getting the roads back in operating conditions), shouldn’t we have wording in THIS code that talks to significant snow events and what the expectations are for the residents in Howard County? I think so!

To that point – I am going to reach out to my County Council Representative (Jen Terrasa) and make my case (via this post) as the justification to update that code. Are you with me? If so, reach out to your County Council Representative and send them this post. Maybe we can get a better written code that addresses the scenario we face today.

Here are the email addresses for each County Council Member:

Jon Weinstein – jweinstein@howardcountymd.gov

Dr. Calvin Ball – cbball@howardcountymd.gov

Jen Terrasa – jterrasa@howardcountymd.gov

Mary Kay Sigaty – mksigaty@howardcountymd.gov

Greg Fox – gfox@howardcountymd.gov

And while we are at it, let us see if we can get the County Executive on board with this update:

Allan Kittleman – AKittleman@howardcountymd.gov

If you have any comments….send them to me at lscottewart@me.com, post below in the comment section of this blog or reach out to me via social media.

Scott E

PS – One a personal note, the plows came through my neighborhood this morning at 5:00am (THANKS SO MUCH). I might actually be able to leave the neighborhood today.

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13 responses to “Is it time to update Howard County Code of Ordinances?

  1. I don’t think the code needs to be changed. This is a matter of enforcement. It is unreasonable to enforce this law when there is more than a foot of snow on the ground, just like it is unreasonable to charge someone with littering when they are running a 5K and throwing their paper cup to the side of the road.

    • I would agree except that post DID go out with a phone number to report a property owner from HoCoGov. That gives me great concern about potential future enforcement given the way the code is written. We have subsections of other codes and this would seem an easy fix to address significant snow fall events.

      • The problem, as I see it, is that once you get into subsections you entertain more ambiguity. Let’s say we define a “significant snow fall” as one foot. Ok, no shoveling of sidewalks for one foot, but for how long? One week? What if it snows an additional two inches during the week? What if it freezes?

        This law codifies civil liability. If you don’t shovel when you really should and someone gets hurt, you are in for much more than a $250 fine.

        It was dumb for the HoCo Government to post what they did on social media, but I can guarantee you that this law is not being enforced for this storm. The backlash is a bit over the top if you ask me. Someone hit “send” when they shouldn’t have. No need to mess with an otherwise straight-forward law because of it.

      • Yeah, I’m with Tom. I don’t think the code needs to be changed, because the Exec. can use “enforcement discretion” in unusual situations. And perhaps hire someone a bit less tone deaf to handle the County’s social media presence.

  2. The Code should be amended to give the County Executive the authority to issue a proclamation waiving enforcement of the section as deemed proper considering the amount of snowfall, prevailing weather and other conditions. If the road conditions require the County Executive to close the County Offices, then it seems it should not be expected that the residents clear the sidewalks faster than the roads.

  3. No, absolutely not. 48 hours is *plenty* of time. A) Walkable sidewalks keeps kids off the roads on their way to sledding and other activities. B) Snow *massively* impacts disabled residents’ ability to get around. They shouldn’t be stuck on their own block because we are too lazy to shovel. C) If we want a greener, more walkable Howard County, we need to commit even when it inconveniences us.

  4. I do not think that the code needs to be changed. This is a Facebook overreaction. 130 comments? Mostly opposed? Write something on Facebook about affordable housing and see how the comments play out. Clearly when the Governor calls a storm-related state of emergency, things are treated differently, but the other side of the argument is homeowners need to shovel their sidewalks. HCPSS continues to evaluate when they can safely open schools. Part of that calculation is can the kids walk safely. I know that a lot of people were frustrated with clearing the roads, but Wednesday marks the fourth day since the storm passed, and there are still plenty of homeowners in my neighborhood that have not shoveled their sidewalks.

  5. Just to expand on what Mr. Santos said, we have a similar issue with homeowners in our neighborhood. In fact, several of us have gotten together to take care of this, with each of us taking on certain parts of the sidewalks throughout. Could we simply call the County number and bust people? Sure, but we’re going to try to take the the high road. Perhaps if they see enough of us out there they’ll get the idea and pitch in (wishful thinking, I know).

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