Overland Park council will look into request for stricter enforcement of code on sidewalk snow removal

The Overland Park City Council will consider whether to step up enforcement of the city’s ordinance requiring people to shovel snow from the sidewalks on their property after a resident complained about the dangers posed by impassable walkways. File photo.

City council members say they are willing to look into an Overland Park resident’s request for stricter sidewalk snow removal enforcement. But any action, if it comes at all, won’t happen this year.

The city council’s public works committee asked staff to look into how other communities enforce sidewalk shoveling after hearing concerns from Rebecca Crowder. Crowder had asked that the city take a stricter approach to snow shoveling by requiring residents to remove snow and ice from their walks within 48 hours and businesses within 24 hours.

Crowder, who previously worked in the city manager’s office in Janesville, Wis., said she was moved to push the issue last year after seeing someone having a hard time on an unshoveled walkway. “I was driving on 95th Street, westbound on the east side of Metcalf and there was a gentleman in a wheelchair trying to get through the snow, and it upset me a lot,” she said.

Something similar happened this year on Antioch Road near 98th Street, where she observed a woman with a walker struggling to get through the snow.

“It’s an access and a rights issue. Not everyone has a car,” Crowder said.

She suggested Overland Park look to other cities’ snow ordinances, perhaps considering a program that would allow people who are unable to shovel to sign up to get volunteer help.

Overland Park currently has a resolution that “encourages” the removal of snow, ice and debris by property owners with sidewalks.

Councilmembers say issue isn’t always straightforward

“I want to try to think of something we can do to help people. My concern is there are a lot of what-ifs,” said Councilmember Chris Newlin. File photo.

But committee members said sidewalk snow removal is a complex issue and that rule changes of the type Crowder proposed would require more study. There are staffing issues, for instance, with timely snow removal on city-owned sidewalks and trails. Streets get first priority for emergency responders.

Requirements and possibly fines for private property owners who don’t shovel also come with some perils, committee members said.

“I want to try to think of something we can do to help people. My concern is there are a lot of what-ifs,” said Councilmember Chris Newlin. Some people may be traveling when a snowstorm hits, while others may be physically unable to clear the walks, he said.

Councilmember Paul Lyons, who attended the meeting but is not on the committee, said the city should look into its snow rules because of safety concerns. Sometimes snow piled onto sidewalks results in people walking in the streets, for instance.

Lyons and other members pointed out that the Kansas City area doesn’t usually get a lot of snow, and the snow that does fall often melts within a couple of days.

Nevertheless, there have been a few years when the city has been hit hard and there should be some thought about how to respond to the more extreme snowfalls, Lyons said.

Getting buy-in from residents who may not be aware they are responsible for clearing the sidewalks may require a significant educational effort, said Councilmember Jim Thompson.

Councilmember Curt Skoog added: “It’s hard to legislate being a good neighbor. We try to do that on a regular basis on lots of issues and it’s just hard to do.”

Crowder said the ordinance in Janesville worked very well. “I think sometimes it does take an ordinance, not because you want to legislate everything but because there are times when there are actors who won’t respond to anything except an ordinance. And right now the city can’t take action. They can’t do anything if I don’t shovel my sidewalk.”

Committee Chairman Jim Kite said the committee is taking first steps by asking staff for more information on other cities and costs of enforcement. That fact gathering is expected to take until March or April, meaning no ordinance could be adopted for the rest of this season.