Resident Seeks Snow Removal Bylaw Repeal, Focus on Fairness

Eric Anderson knows what happens when it snows in Belmont.

Born and raised in town, Anderson said he spent many a winter day with his father shoveling his fair portion of the frozen precipitation off the sidewalks adjacent to his family’s home.

“I’ve been shoveling snow for 37 years … and I’ll continue to do so for the rest of my life,” Anderson told The Belmontonian.

But Anderson doesn’t believe he or any other resident should be forced to perform this normal winter task by a town edict that he has determined is both legally and philosophically questionable.

On Monday night, April 28, before more than 100 residents attending the annual Warrant Briefing sponsored by the Belmont League of Women Voters and the Warrant Committee at the Beech Street Center, Anderson defended his citizens petition – Article 6 – that would strike down the town’s newly-installed residential snow removal bylaw at this year’s annual Town Meeting set to begin Monday, May 5.

“This is, from every angle, a bad law,” he told the audience.

Yet supporters of the bylaw are advocating that the regulations be allowed to stand for the remaining two years of its existence to see how this “experiment” to make Belmont “a better, walkable community” can be improved, according to Michele Banker of Scott Road.

“I’m sure we will have a robust discussion [on the article],” said meeting moderator Michael Libenson, chair of the Warrant Committee.

Eric Anderson (sitting) and moderator Michael Libenson at the annual Warrant Briefing.

Eric Anderson (sitting) and moderator Michael Libenson at the annual Warrant Briefing.

Anderson said the town shouldn’t force residential property owners to be “good neighbors” under a threat of increasing fines and penalties within the bylaw passed at the Special Town Meeting last November that instructs home and property owners to remove any “sizable” snow that falls on sidewalks bordering their property within 36 hours after the snow stops.

One reason for quashing the bylaw is practical for Anderson. After living in the Midwest for a dozen years, he moved back to Belmont in 2011 to settle in a house at the corner of two major town thoroughfares, Pleasant and Leonard streets.

When it snows, the sidewalks outside his house become magnets as the white stuff gets pushed and falls into the walkway.

“If there is a foot of snow on the ground, there is about three feet piled up on my sidewalk and contrary to town officials, a lot of snow gets re-plowed onto the sidewalk,” said Anderson.

The bylaws legal responsibility to clear the sidewalk is “just one I can’t meet so I am subject to fines every year by no fault of my own,” he told the Belmontonian, noting to the audience earlier that penalizing him and his neighbors “is completely unjust.”

A question of community

But his objection isn’t just one of physical effort. Anderson joins past critics who question a legal requirement that residents must improve the accessibility of sidewalks that are town owned.

“It’s not our property. How can the town force us to labor for it?” Anderson told the Belmontonian.

“Who knows, we could be required next year to fill in pot holes.”

But Anderson believes the debate that is sure to come at Town Meeting should include the understandable rational behind the bylaw’s creation: enjoining Belmont residents to act responsibly.

“The worse part of this is the way it undermines community in Belmont,” Anderson told those in attendance, asking resident if they “want to live in a police state where every inconvenience gets addressed with a law and a schedule of fines and punishments?”

Rather, neighbors should speak to those who are not shoveling “and talk to them politely” concerning the necessity to shovel, for both safety and convenience.

Anderson’s “sense of community” was questioned by Anne Paulsen, the former Selectman and State Representative, who said for the first time in her now half-century living in Belmont, she was able to walk from her house on School Street nearby the Wellington School to Waverley Square where “every sidewalk was shoveled.”

“Don’t you think that’s a sign of a good sense of community?” queried Paulsen.

“I think that’s a sign of fear of being fined,” said Anderson, whose answer brought a few hisses and some good-natured laughing from some in the crowd.

Other supporters of the new bylaw spoke out concerning the spirit of the bylaw “was just to get people to have more of a sense of responsibility,” said Lucia Sullivan, and that before its enactment, “almost no one shoveled. But after, those who could, did.”

Others hoped the town would allow the bylaw to work for the next two winters as a test to see “what kinds of changes that are able to be made and what we need to do and how we need to change the wording” to better adapt the regulations to real world conditions, according to Banker.

Belmont Town Administrator David Kale, confirmed the bylaw is set to be expire on April, 30, 2016. If the bylaw is not reintroduced at the 2016 Town Meeting, it will be struck from the regulations.