A new City snow shoveling ordinance has been placed on hold, with some aldermen raising concerns about how its provisions will be applied. 

Aldermen held over the proposal at their Feb. 24 City Council meeting, directing staff to come back with changes addressing some of their concerns.

City staff is proposing that property owners remove snow and ice from sidewalks after any accumulation of snow has fallen, dropping their current rule which requires shoveling after four inches of snow.

Receiving criticism, officials have pulled back from their original fee structure proposal for non-compliance from $150, $400, and $750 for first, second  and third violations, to $50, $200 and $450.

In discussion at the Feb. 24 meeting, though, Alderman Donald Wilson, 4th Ward, said he was still uncomfortable with some aspects of the ordinance.

“I’ve heard from a number of people in the community – it’s being referred to as the zero-tolerance provision,” he said.

“Honestly, that’s the way it is written – it’s written so any accumulation of snow or ice has to be removed. and I don’t know anybody in the City who gets all the snow and ice [removed] with 100% certainty.”

Ald. Wilson, an attorney, also noted that  current Illinois law does not appear to hold property owners responsible when there are natural accumulations of snow and ice.

“So I don’t want to create a situation where, not only are people being fined, but if that’s not done that might create a liability situation for a homeowner or removal company for not doing it perfectly.”

Another alderman, Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, observed with the proposal, “It’s going to be a really big change for our residents to be required within 24 hours to immediately remove all snow and ice.”

She wondered what kind of grace period the City would give residents while they adjust to the changes.

In that regard, Johanna Leonard, the City’s Community Development Director, said the department generally responds to a shoveling complaint more than 24 hours after a snowfall.

“It’s not like we’re ready right at the marker,” she said.Under the current proposal, an inspector would then visit the site and, if the complaint is confirmed, would issue a notice of violation “that is not a ticket,” she stressed.

“It just says: ‘Here’s the code; here’s the penalty.’”

The inspector would then return again after 24 hours have passed [and more likely longer than that if the City was dealing with a large number of complaints] and, at that point, can ticket.

“But even then it’s not like a parking ticket,” she told aldermen.

“There’s a date set in the future for an administrative hearing, and then you could be found liable but as I’ve learned from the inspectors … it’s not zero tolerance. If you made attempts [at removal] the [Administrative Adjudication] hearing officers are generally forgiving and may find you really could not remove it [the snow and ice].”

As for a grace period, Ms. Leonard anticipated “ a built-in grace period, just getting information out there” about the new program.

Speaking to staff, Ms. Leonard estimated the City would end up writing 20 tickets or less for non-shoveling. Last year, she has pointed out, the City issued zero tickets despite 214 complaints.

City staff members have already been circulating “door hangers” – information placards residents can give to neighbors, gently reminding them of the need to shovel, she said.

Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, said officials had addressed his biggest concern by reducing the fee structure.

He said the “time and energy” officials have devoted to getting word out about clearing sidewalks has been important. too.

“You’re seeing more compliance,” he said.

Some other Council members, though, continued to have questions.

Alderman Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, noted one resident in her ward goes out at 5 in the morning with his snow-blower after a snowfall, and clears the sidewalks around his house.

However, “when he gets home, if it’s cold, it’s a block of ice – then he is not going to go out there to remove, or can’t remove,” she said. “So I have concerns about people like that.” She then said she would have a hard time supporting an ordinance where a senior received a ticket because he was unable to physically remove the snow or get someone else to do it.

Ald. Fleming also raised concern the new ordinance could be misused.

“There are some neighbors who I know are going to wait for that snow, and they’re going to call on a neighbor they don’t like, or for whatever reason. And then you’re [the inspectors are] going to be out there and you’re unfortunately going to be in the middle of some kind of neighborhood feud,” she told Ms. Leonard.

Ms. Leonard indicated staff will exercise judgement in such cases.

“In terms of corners, I think if you can’t get to the snow, and it’s become a block of snow, you can’t get to the snow,” she said.

“We’re all human and well try to work with people in this stuff,” she said.

She said the goal is compliance leading to “improving walkability in our built environments.”

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, thought door hangers were the way to go. “But I don’t think we should be so malevolent as we’ve been with tickets and things.

“I don’t see how we’re going to collect the fine. We listened to Johanna at our last meeting where she laid out the timetable. … It was like a month before there was even a possibility of having an adjudication hearing officer.”

Ald. Wilson said he appreciated those sentiments. “But none of that is in the ordinance – like zero is in the ordinance. I hear what you’re saying – ‘We’re not going to be overly harsh or anything’  –  but that’s not what it [the ordinance] says. So if we’re going to pass a law, if it can’t be uniformly applied as it’s written, I don’t think we should pass something that’s not uniformly applied.”

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.