A 'blatant disregard' for safety: Des Plaines aldermen criticize businesses that don't clear sidewalks

Frustrated by snow accumulation on sidewalks outside some Des Plaines businesses, city officials are pledging to more aggressively go after merchants who don't keep those paths safe.

"The No. 1 priority for us is to protect the public," Sixth Ward Alderman Malcolm Chester said during Tuesday's council meeting. "And we're not doing a very good job of protecting the public if we leave ice and snow on sidewalks for seniors and other people to have to walk on."

Removing snow from adjacent public sidewalks is required by city ordinance. Businesses that don't clear walks can be fined and charged $500 or more when city crews remove snow from sidewalks instead.

Although it's a concern citywide, snow accumulation on sidewalks especially is problematic in a section of the 5th Ward, along Lee Street between the Canadian National Railroad tracks and Oakton Street.

Public Works Director Tim Oakley said only 63% of the 49 businesses there cleared snow from their sidewalks after the Jan. 1 snowfall. The rate increased to 82% following the Feb. 2 snowfall, he said.

But even so, the city plowed sidewalks at five businesses there after the Feb. 2 storm because of inaction by the property owners, Oakley said.

The city charged the businesses for the work. Putting down salt to melt ice costs $500 plus an administrative fee; each pass with a snowplow costs $500 plus the administrative fee, too.

That's on top of fines for not clearing 2 inches or more of snow within 24 hours after a storm. Fines start at $250 for a first offense and can go as high as $750.

Thirty-nine snow-related tickets have been issued in the Lee Street area since Jan. 1, according to a city memo.

Some business owners don't seem to mind shelling out the cash.

"Year after year, some businesses refuse to comply with (the) city ordinance," City Manager Michael G. Bartholomew said. "We enforce the rules and issue fines, but it continues to be a major problem."

First Ward Alderman Mark Lysakowski said some businesses might prefer paying multiple fines over clearing sidewalks. He suggested amending the ordinance to make it clear that businesses violating the snow-removal rule will pay the city to do the job in addition to fines.

Fifth Ward Alderman Carla Brookman lashed out at the Jewel-Osco store at 1500 S. Lee St. The contractors who remove snow from the store's parking lot often pile it on a nearby public sidewalk, Brookman said.

"It's a blatant disregard for our city codes and the safety of our residents and their customers," Brookman said.

When asked about the complaints Wednesday, Jewel-Osco spokeswoman Mary Frances Trucco apologized and said the company "will ensure the sidewalks remain clear of snow."

Brookman also told the council she's seen photos of people - including a woman with a walker and a man in a wheelchair - traveling in the street on Lee because the sidewalk was covered by snow and ice.

She wants the issue resolved citywide before next winter.

"We have a responsibility and an obligation to the people we represent," Brookman said. "This can't go on another year."

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