It is unclear if Dakota County or MNDoT is responsible for the sidewalks along 61 that go over the Vermillion River. What is clear is that intersection is a very busy one and there is no safe way for a pedestrian or person utilizing a mobility device to safely cross the river at this location.Photo by Bruce Karnick
City sidewalk clearing ordinance is driven by resident complaints

The State of Minnesota has seen record snowfall for the start of the 2022-23 Winter. That snowfall means residents and businesses have been busy with the removal of snow from their properties as well as any public sidewalks that make their way through their properties. Well, at least most have been removing snow from the sidewalks on their property. There are some around town that seem to struggle with understanding the snow removal requirements.

For the purpose of this article, the sections of the ordinance that pertains to the contents of this story have been copied here. The additional details can be found on the city’s website.

Section 90.04 of the Hastings City Ordinance states that: (A) Ice and snow a nuisance. All snow and ice remaining upon public sidewalks is hereby declared to constitute a public nuisance and shall be abated by the owner or tenant of the abutting private property within 48 hours after the snow or ice has ceased to be deposited.

(B) City to remove snow and ice. The city may cause to be removed from all public sidewalks beginning 48 hours after snow or ice has ceased to fall, all snow and ice which may be discovered thereon, and it shall keep a record of the cost of the removal and the private property adjacent to which the accumulations were found and removed.

(E) Placing snow or ice in public street or on other city property. It is unlawful for any person, not acting under a specific contract with the city, to remove snow from private property and place the same on a public street (which includes sidewalks) in the quantity, or in the manner, as to cause a hazard to travel, without adequate arrangements for the immediate removal thereof; and it is also unlawful for any person not acting under a contract with the city to dump snow on other city property. (Prior Code, § 6.05) Penalty, see § 10.99 This means that if you own or rent property in the City of Hastings, it is your responsibility to remove snow and ice from any public sidewalk that is adjacent to or on your property or you can be held responsible for the removal. Something that all lifetime residents of Hastings are well aware of from decades ago, but that does not stop people from claiming ignorance to or simply ignoring the requirement.

“It is certainly frustrating,” said Dawn West with the City of Hastings Code Enforcement. “The businesses on Vermillion Street, specifically a couple of years ago, were sent a letter stating they needed to remove the snow from sidewalks within 48 hours of a snowfall.”

The last snowfall for Hastings was overnight from Wednesday, Jan. 4th into the following Thursday morning. The snow had stopped earlier than 6 a.m. but for simplicity, 8:00 a.m. will be used since most people are up and moving by then. That means that by 8 a.m. Saturday morning, all the sidewalks needed to be cleared. A quick drive up and down Vermillion Street alone, the conditions of the sidewalks and the ramps were split fairly even between clean or not touched. Of the 40 or so business properties looked at, roughly half needed some serious snow removal and some just needed to go back and touch up the ramps to the sidewalks.

“I do understand that once the plows come through, the sidewalks will need to be touched up,” said West. “But it is still the responsibility of the landowner or tenant to do that work.”

This applies to businesses as well. With all of the businesses being contacted at one point in the last couple of years, there is little reason as to non-compliance. So, what is being done about those that are non-compliant?

According to West, the system has become complaint based, once a complaint is received, she reaches out to the business to make sure they understand the ordinance requirements. That may be by phone or written letter.

“There was a complaint, somebody called in a complaint against Applebee's. So, I looked, Applebee's hasn't cleared. But then, I'm not just going to write up Applebee's because you had Deals with Wheels, you had Domino's, all of those guys have not cleared. So, if you haven't done it by a phone call, then I have to send a letter. I've only ticketed one person this year so far. But once that letter goes out it's basically saying if you don't clear it, it's a $50 fine and then if you get another letter in the same year, it just goes to 100. It just keeps going up,” explained West.

West had tried communicating to both residents and businesses in multiple ways and she is clearly frustrated with the results. They have written letters, emails, calls, social media posts, and still, there are businesses and homes that simply do not comply with the ordinance, so eventually they get fined. Those fines go against the taxes at the end of the year.

The problem is, the sidewalks need to be clear for not only pedestrians, but also for those with mobility needs. Last week there was a person on a mobility scooter who crossed Vermillion Street at 15th Street and they could not get on the sidewalk because CVS had not cleared it all winter. If they had to go in front of Napa, they were not accessing the sidewalk because there was a two-foot-tall plow drift on the ramp. Along with the thick snow on the ramps, there was enough snow on the sidewalk to make it difficult to use the scooter.

If the code enforcement protocol is followed, the city can decide to clear the sidewalks for a home or business and the cost of that will be passed onto the property owner.

West doesn’t just deal with sidewalks not being cleared properly in the winter, she also takes calls for other aspects of snow removal.

“Contractors are pushing snow across the road in this specific one here, was on 36th Street. A contractor from the Frederick Circle complex on the south end of town pushed snow across the road, which is prohibited and pushed it on to a neighboring property. Now it's sitting on the sidewalk and someone else’s property and there's about an eight-foot pile. You can’t do that. If you have too much snow on your property, you have to do what the city does, you have to get a loader and a truck and haul it away to somewhere else,” West explained.

What can you do to help?

First, if you live or work at a property that has public sidewalks, make sure they are cleared, and not just one swipe of a snowblower or shovel, they need to be cleared to the full width of the sidewalk. This includes situations like Walgreens and many other businesses and even residences along Vermillion Street where the sidewalk is touching the curb. Just because there is no boulevard between the sidewalk and the street does not mean you get out of your responsibility to clear sidewalks.

Second, contact the city when you see ordinance violations. The conversation that was had with the Code Enforcement department regarding this issue is going to prompt a plethora of letters to be sent to area businesses reminding them of their obligations to clear the sidewalk properly. To report a code violation, including the failure to remove snow from a sidewalk, call the Dawn West at 651480-2376.

With the lack of clearing sidewalks being a huge issue, some of the other issues might be pushed aside. There are places that are doing their best to move the snow properly, but they just don’t have the staff to get it done. The city and the school district are ones that come to mind. This time around, both did a good job of keeping up with the snow removal on trails and sidewalks, but there are times they need to go beyond that 48-hour time limit, and West tries to be understanding of the businesses circumstances.

Why then are the bridge sidewalks not cleared properly over the Vermillion River at Highway 61? That is a State MNDoT issue, just like the mountable medians that we as a city were promised the MNDoT would keep clear for emergency vehicles to drive over as needed. So far, neither has been touched since the start of winter.

The hope is, between this story and the added communication with businesses, we can eliminate the snow issues for the entirety of Hastings. But you need to help, one additional way is being a Hydrant Hero. Hydrant Heroes keep the area around Fire Hydrants clear of snow for at least three feet. This can be a life saving measure that could give firefighters the extra time they need to knock down a fire.

The bottom line, you can help in many ways, and Hastings will be that much better for it.

The scene in front of Domino’s Pizza is similar to the scene in front of both CVS Pharmacy, Walgreen’s and far too many other businesses in Hastings, especially along Highway 61. Clear evidence that the sidewalks have not been touched all year despite early season record snowfall in Minnesota. Photo by Bruce Karnick

January 11, 2023