It’s a common feature of winter in Montclair, whenever there is a snowstorm in the forecast: the reminders from the township, through social media and e-blasts, for homeowners and business owners to shovel their sidewalks once the snow has stopped falling.
A winter storm on March 14 deposited at least 7 inches of snow on Montclair and the surrounding towns. The plowing activity resulted in berms of snow at least a foot high on sidewalks and at crosswalks.
Township Communications Director Katya Wowk said on Tuesday that the Code Enforcement Office had issued 130 summonses to residents and businesses that did not clear their sidewalks. She said the office will try to notify property owners before issuing a summons.
Third Ward Councilman Sean Spiller said Monday that he had heard almost no complaints this year about snow-covered sidewalks, in contrast to a large number of complaints last year. “I would hope that is because the [Business Improvement District] and township have helped communicate the importance to businesses to clear the walkways,” he said.
He added that the Code Enforcement Office now patrols the township to look for uncleared areas. “If they find any, they try and get the owner to clear the area and if unable, they have the work done through the township and billed to the offending entity. I am sure that has helped as well.”
“I think that we listened and learned from the past,” said Fourth Ward Councilwoman Renée Baskerville. “I did get a few [comments] on Facebook who mentioned that school was closed the day after the snowstorm because the sidewalks were still difficult to pass. I wasn’t sure if that was business or residential.”
She noted that Essex County had plowed the sidewalk around Glenfield Park before Montclair called to request it. “The amazing thing was that they plowed all except a patch of snow that blocked the entrance to the sidewalk from the street to the Wally Choice Community Center. The seniors found that very hard to navigate,” Baskerville said.
However, she added, the Board of Chosen Freeholders sent crews out to clean up the sidewalk within moments of being notified by Montclair.
In Montclair, residents and businesses are responsible for clearing the sidewalks in front of their properties after a snowstorm. The clearing of snow must be done within the first 12 hours of daylight following the storm. Property owners are also required to coat sidewalks with a layer of sand or rock salt in order to keep ice from forming.
“Any property whose sidewalk leads to a crosswalk shall remove snow, slush and/or ice so as to give clear path of access to the crosswalk,” says the township’s snow removal ordinance.
Some of the snow removal, including in municipal parking lots and on crosswalks, is the responsibility of the township’s crews. “If our crews dump snow on the curbs, it is our responsibility for moving them,” Wowk said on Monday. “Otherwise it is the property owner’s responsibility.”
Over social media, a number of residents reported that large piles of snow blocked crosswalks at key intersections in the business district, or that a number of businesses had snow-covered sidewalks in front of them.
“We received no complaints to the office [about blocked sidewalks] but did recognize the sidewalks of vacant storefronts were a bit cumbersome to navigate,” said Israel Cronk, executive director of the Montclair Center Business Improvement District. “Montclair Center is currently working on a system with the township to ensure that the sidewalks are cleared before a certain time the day after the storm.”
The first priority, he said, is to salt the corners at crosswalks the day before a snowstorm hits. Once the snow has stopped falling, the next step is to shovel the corners and uncover trash cans that were tipped on their sides during plowing. “We continually clean until the snow melts. It’s ultimately the township’s responsibility to do this but Montclair Center steps up to the plate and pitches in,” he said. “We only have shovels in hand to do this work but we do the best we can. We can mobilize quickly which helps the township get a head start on the cleanup.”
The fine for not having a cleared sidewalk is $100 for the first offense and anywhere between $200 and $500 for subsequent offenses. The township also prohibits snow from being deposited in the street during shoveling or snowblowing.
“It’s all a matter of working together and helping each other out. We always encourage our landlords and business owners to swiftly clear sidewalks,” Cronk said. “For the most part they do.”