Danedri Thompson
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City officials debated changes to city code that would require sidewalks in Gardner be clear within 24 hours of a snow event. Under existing code, sidewalks are to be cleared within five hours of a snow storm, however city officials do not enforce it.
Council member Todd Winters said he was really opposed to the proposed changes to sidewalk clearing code.
Specifically, Winters worried about senior citizens and disabled Gardner residents who may not be able to clear the sidewalks themselves and may not be able to afford hiring someone to do it for them.
“There are just so many different situations and so many people who shouldn’t be shoveling,” Winters said. “I don’t know why the government has to say you have to clear this off your sidewalk.”
When city staff initially presented sidewalk code updates, they told council members the changes were so children could walk to school. However, Melissa Mundt told council members Monday night that according to the Kansas League of Municipalities (KLM) sidewalk clearing ordinances are necessary due to the Americans with Disabilities act.
“The ADA says it’s a real issue,” Mundt said. “There’s case law that supports it.”
But Winters wondered whether potential ADA litigants couldn’t argue they’re being discriminated against by being forced to clear their own sidewalks when they aren’t physically able to.
Mayor Dave Drovetta said he’s received e-mails supporting both sides of the issue.
“There are organizations out there that this is kind of their mission to help the folks who can’t get it done, get it done,” he said.
He suggested that local churches and other groups could offer snow shoveling services if council members adopted the new code.
“This is one of those decisions where someone is not going to be happy,” Drovetta said.
Stewart Fairburn, city administrator, said sidewalks are the responsibility of the adjacent property owners. If someone trips on a broken sidewalk in front of someone’s house, the property owner is liable, although Fairburn admitted in that instance, the city would probably be named in the suit as well.
Council member Brian Broxterman wondered about timeliness requirement of the proposed snow shoveling code as it relates to ADA compliance.
“Is 5 days reasonable?” Broxterman asked.
Mundt said in surrounding cities the requirement is 24 to 48 hours after a snow event.
Overland Park has a resolution “encouraging” people to maintain their sidewalks, but doesn’t ticket. In Olathe, there is not a time requirement.
Instead, the code says it is “the duty” of the homeowner to clear sidewalks of snow and ice, but the remedies are rarely enforced. Other cities, like Lee’s Summit, Mo., do not have sidewalk clearing regulations at all.
In addition to snow-removal changes to the property code, city staff presented a complete update of the current property code. The code requires that the exterior of structures in city limits be maintained in “good condition…. Free of holes, broken window glass, loose shingles or crumbling brick or stone.”
It eliminates the burning of yard waste, which is permitted under the existing code.
The proposed code does allow Gardner residents to use a barbecue grill for outdoor cooking.
It also lays out how city staff will enforce the code.
Jim Sherman, city codes administrator, told council members that when a neighbor makes a complaint about a property in violation, the complaint would be logged into the computer system.
Sherman said in assessing the property, city officials can not, under state statute, trespass through a legal barrier – such as a fence.
He said instead of notifying the property owner, the inspector would likely try to assess the property from the complaining-neighbor’s yard.
Ideally, a city codes inspector would visit the property in question within 48 hours of the city receiving a complaint. The inspector would take notes and write a report specifying whether the property was in violation.
If in violation, the property owner would be given a certain amount of time to bring the property up to code. The city would also have the ability to abate the problem themselves. For instance, if a property allows their grass to grow too tall, city officials will eventually mow the lawn and send the property owner a bill.
The code allows the city to prosecute violations of city code in municipal court, and penalties including imprisonment may result from violations.
To view the proposed property code, visit http://www.gardnerkansas.gov/council_agenda_021411.
Council members will consider the update to the property code during a March 7 meeting.
In other business, council members heard a presentation about the Kansas City Hot Air Balloon Invitational set to take place in Gardner during Memorial Day weekend. City officials anticipate the event – now in its second year in Gardner – will attract even more than the 15,000-plus that attended last year.
The event, which features the launch of dozens of hot air balloons, was free last year, however organizers plan to charge $5 for parking this year. The city and organizers will split parking revenues.