Castle Street

A portion of a Castle Street sidewalk in downtown Geneva was covered in white stuff after a major storm in January of this year.

GENEVA — A major winter storm in January dumped plenty of snow on the region and left portions of Geneva’s sidewalks nearly impassable.

City officials are hoping that a change in sidewalk-clearing policy will address that — and it’s likely to get a test today, with the first big snowfall of the season having arrived.

While residential property owners have 24 hours to clear sidewalks in front of their homes, commercial property owners, including those in the downtown quadrant, don’t have a whole day anymore. Instead, the new policy approved by City Council states that sidewalks in front of commercial establishments and commercial parking lots shall be kept free of snow and ice at all times between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

“The main change and purpose of the ordinance was enforcement,” said Assistant City Manager/Comptroller Adam Blowers, explaining that under the previous wording, property owners who did not clear walks within the 24-hour period were given a notice that gave them seven days to remedy the situation.

Under the updated ordinance, if the city determines that the property owner — residential and commercial alike — has not cleared the sidewalks within the respective required period, the city has the option of removing the snow, with a bill for the work, as well as an administrative fee.

“We’re making sure that we recoup those costs,” Blowers told City Council at its regular September meeting.

Blowers said the ordinance will be enforced on a complaint-driven basis, and that the goal is quicker sidewalk clearing and greater pedestrian safety.

The change is aimed at scofflaws, one City Council member said.

“There are properties that routinely ignore (the sidewalk-clearing ordinance),” Ward 5 Councilor Jason Hagerman in September. “Those are the properties that are going to get the calls.”

Some residents have called for city Department of Public Works crews — or possibly Business Improvement District workers — to clear downtown sidewalks for the benefit of those working, living and patronizing businesses. The director of BID, who mentioned the issue of downtown sidewalk snow removal during the organization’s annual meeting in February, said the ordinance modification will help.

“I think it’s much improved from the previous year,” Mark Palmieri noted.

Dave Linger, who along with his partner, Wendy Marsh, is one of downtown’s biggest property owners, agreed.

“The majority of property owners in Geneva, including downtown, take care of their property and promptly remove snow and ice from the sidewalks,” Linger wrote by email. “The new law hopefully will allow the city to address the few property owners who aren’t fulfilling their obligations.

“I don’t think the new law is punitive. Hopefully the new law will result in the public being able to safely use the sidewalks all year.”

Linger also serves as president of the BID Board of Directors.

Others are not so optimistic.

Jan Regan, elected to a four-year term as Ward 3 councilor last week and owner of a photography business on Seneca Street, told the Finger Lakes Times editorial board in October that she did not agree with the snow-removal ordinance change.

With the snow-removal ordinance changes, residents who may be out of town during a snowfall should create a plan to have it removed in their absence, the city advised.

For more information, call the city DPW at (315) 789-3101.

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