County to Decriminalize Failure to Clear Snowy Sidewalks

Loudoun has a law: You must clear snow from sidewalks in front of your home or business after it stops snowing. If you don’t, you can be charged with a misdemeanor and fined up to $250.

But even if you didn’t this year, you probably didn’t get a fine.

“I think your execution of leniency in this has been much appreciated by a lot of residents,” Supervisor Ron A. Meyer Jr. (R-Broad Run) told Planning and Zoning Director Ricky Barker, whose department is charged with enforcing the ordinance. “I know a lot of residents were a little bit thrown off when a press release came out in the middle of a blizzard saying you could get a ticket.”

So far, according to Barker and Planning and Zoning Enforcement Program Manager T. Keith Fairfax, the county has never taken someone to court over the offense. Usually if they receive a complaint, the zoning staff just drops by the offending property to inform the owners about the law.

But last winter tested that. Zoning staff members had to visit some property owners several times.

Planning and Zoning Enforcement Program Manager T. Keith Fairfax and Director Ricky Barker explain a staff proposal for new sidewalk clearing rules. (Renss Greene/Loudoun Now)
Planning and Zoning Enforcement Program Manager T. Keith Fairfax and Director Ricky Barker explain a staff proposal for new sidewalk clearing rules. (Renss Greene/Loudoun Now)

Now, the staff is working on a new rule: If you don’t clear your sidewalks, you can be handed a civil fine of $100. There would no longer be a misdemeanor charge, and some new exceptions would apply—for instance, a 48-hour extension if county government is closed.

“This is a good-to-have ordinance,” Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) said during last week’s board meeting. “We’re not trying to fine people or criminalize people, we’re trying to get compliance.”

But the exact shape of that new rule is under debate. Meyer tried to do away with the snow clearing requirement entirely. That failing, he asked that the age exemption be lowered from 65 to 55.

“Personally, I think probably one of the most embarrassing days for me as a board member so far was that press release,” Meyer said.

Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) suggested tying the 48-hour extension to school closings, instead of county government closings.

“I say this because [County Administrator] Mr. [Tim] Hemstreet doesn’t like to close this government, and we don’t close very much except for extreme, extreme events,” Letourneau said. “One of the reasons for this is that the sidewalks need to be clear for the kids to get to schools.”

The board voted to send the ordinance to a future business meeting for the staff and board members to hash out the details.

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4 thoughts on “County to Decriminalize Failure to Clear Snowy Sidewalks

  • 2016-04-19 at 8:07 pm

    I thought we outlawed forcing people to labor without compensation 150 years ago.

  • 2016-04-20 at 8:32 am

    A reasonable person would have thought that Mr. D, but we’re talking about government here.
    I find it remarkable government is giving up an easy way to imprison regular citizens.

  • 2016-04-20 at 10:52 am

    Chris, I think you’ve stumbled upon something. The real penalty should be snow shovel chain gangs forced into hard labor to do what the government is unwilling and unable to do itself….plow Leesburg’s streets and sidewalks.

    “That’s the sound of the men,
    Working on the chain, ga-ang”

  • 2016-04-20 at 2:33 pm

    Don’t forget the part where all the local politicians and other assorted strap hangers come out and stand in front of the snow shovel chain gang for a photo op, Mr. D. They could all claim credit for getting the sidewalks cleared of all that hideous global warming they keep mumbling about.

    I bet it wouldn’t be too difficult to get a few of them to engage in some good old fashioned Maoist Cultural Revolution style denunciation antics: Pointing their fingers in the offender’s faces, screaming slogans, and holding up little copies of the zoning regs… bound in red of course.

    What sort of society makes criminals out of citizens who don’t shovel snow? I think the board would serve themselves and the People of Loudoun well, if they spent an entire year going through the books and rescinding ignorant ordinances.

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