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City of Durango code enforcement buried in snow complaints

About 450 grievances filed this month, mostly about sidewalks and marooned cars

Durango’s Code Enforcement department has received so many complaints this month about sidewalks covered in snow or cars abandoned in snowbanks that it can’t keep up with them, according to city staff.

Most of the 450 complaints made this month to Code Enforcement have to do with snow removal, or lack thereof, said Shane Roukema, a code enforcement officer and building inspector. Grievances have been filed from all parts of the city, many for uncleared sidewalks or abandoned cars cased in snow and ice, he said. About one-third of all north Main Avenue businesses hadn’t shoveled their sidewalks, he said.

City code requires businesses and residences to remove snow from sidewalks within 24 hours of the last snowfall, Roukema said. But that can seem like a never-ending task when snowplows push their loads onto adjacent sidewalks.

On Main Avenue in downtown Durango, snowplows push the slushy debris into the middle of the street, which makes it easier for businesses to clear sidewalks. That is not the case on most roads, including north Main Avenue, where snowplows push the icy mess toward the curb, often burying sidewalks and driveways in mounds of ice and hardpack snow, said Tim Walsworth, executive director of the Durango Business Improvement District.

“If snow is not removed, it will impact pedestrian access to the business that’s right there, but also neighboring businesses,” Walsworth said. “It’s not just affecting one place, you’re affecting a string of them.”

The “ultimate question,” Walsworth said, is whether it is fair to rely on business owners to remove the snow. Is there any role for BID to play or any private company that could be hired, he wondered.

“One thing BID will look at: Is there something we can do to help with that,” Walsworth said of snow removal on north Main Avenue. “I don’t know what that is.”

If snow is not removed, and a complaint is filed, Code Enforcement will issue a notice of violation ordering the property owner to clean the sidewalk. If it is not cleaned by the time Code Enforcement comes back, which varies based on caseload, the city can hire a contractor to plow the sidewalk and bill the property owner for the work. Same with buried cars – if vehicles are not moved by the time Code Enforcement returns, it will be towed.

“We look at safety,” Roukema said. “And we’re really reliant on people letting us know where some of the unsafe areas are.”

The city has 1½ Code Enforcement officers, Roukema said: a full-time and a part-time position. If the office receives 18 calls a day – which has been the average this month – it responds to those calls based on which one presents the greatest safety risk, he said. Most complaints are responded to within 24 hours, said Kevin Hall, assistant city manager.

Officers must issue two notices of violation before the city can take action. Issuing two notices gives a property owner time to fix the violation.

But in the past month, officers have not had time to follow up on many of the notices of violation issued across the city; there have been too many complaints, Roukema said. And as a result, sidewalks have gone unshoveled and vehicles scheduled to be towed have not yet been moved, he said.

“We can’t stop the calls,” he said. “If we get 20 calls and I try to (check on violations) from yesterday, then those 20 calls don’t get answered.”

While notices of violation require immediate action, it is difficult for the small Code Enforcement office to enforce the rules when so many calls are coming in, Roukema said.

“Our code states one thing, but our manpower states another,” he said.

Complaints to the Code Enforcement office ebb and flow with the seasons, Hall said. While the office would benefit from another employee, the city doesn’t have the resources to hire one, he said.

“We’ve been doing OK getting by with the resources we have in Code Enforcement,” Hall said, “but we could use more (staff) to be comprehensive in enforcement.”

In November, the city asked voters to raise sales and property taxes to pay for a number of staffing and public infrastructure improvements, which would have included the Code Enforcement department. The city did not have a specific plan improving Code Enforcement had the ballot measure passed, Hall noted. The ballot measure failed by more than a 20 percent margin.

Compliance with city codes will help relieve the overburdened Code Enforcement department, Hall said. If more people shoveled their sidewalks and talked to neighbors about shoveling their paths rather than calling the city, officers would have more time to focus on the most egregious calls, he said.

bhauff@durangoherald.com

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