Unenforcable: Unshoveled sidewalk cases thrown out

news-sidewalk-omniUnshoveled sidewalks like this one on Water Street were common this winter.

Even though snow blocked sidewalks all over town for weeks following major snowstorms in what was a record-breaking winter, no one has been convicted under Charlottesville's ordinance requiring snow removal from public sidewalks.

Police declined to issue citations following the December 18-19 Snowpocalypse because the city had done such a poor job clearing its own sidewalks.

The snow removal ordinance hit another hurdle this week when judges dismissed charges against five people and businesses, including McDonald's, Wendy's and Yellow Cab, who were cited in February for not shoveling.

Defense attorney Andre Hakes argued in Charlottesville General District Court March 12 that Virginia's Dillon's Rule, which says a locality can only adopt laws that are allowed by state law, does not give the city authority to make unshoveled walks a Class 1 misdemeanor, which carries penalities of up to 12 months in jail and/or a $2,500 fine.

"There is no state law authority for criminalization of violations," explains Hakes. What Virginia Code does provide, she says, is that municipalities can compel abatement of nuisances like unshoveled sidewalks, but has to handle it in the same manner as it collects taxes–- by sending a bill.

"Basically this is a civil statute," she says. The city can clean up snow-clogged sidewalks and bill the owner as it does for unmowed grass. "It just isn't a Class 1 misdemeanor," she says.

As a result of her argument that dismissed four cases March 12, another accused non-shoveler's case was thrown out of court March 16.

"The city can only impose a penalty that's authorized by the Code of Virginia," Judge Bob Downer told Tim Kirk. "This ordinance doesn't follow code. A Class 1 misdemeanor is far more severe than what's allowed."

Downer said the city is probably going to change its code and the fine would be about $100. "It's probably cheaper to pay someone to shovel snow," he suggested to Kirk.

"I'm a procrastinator," says Kirk after the hearing. "I hoped the snow would melt."

He lives on Monticello Avenue, and says he was warned to clear the walkways within 12 hours on February 12 , but had to work three 12-hour shifts, and didn't get the shoveling done. He went to Kmart to buy a shovel February 16, but that was too late to avoid the summons that day.

"I was so scared and embarrassed," confesses Kirk. "Somebody could have hurt themselves."

"If it's not enforceable, the city needs to rewrite the law to be in compliance," says Kevin Cox, who is on the Pedestrian Safety Committee. He notes that the city amended the ordinance in 2003.

He wants a committee to draft the snow-removal ordinance. "I hope the city will listen to the Pedestrian Safety Committee, the chief of police and the city attorney," he adds.

Deputy city attorney Richard Harris is the man charged with looking at the ordinance, and says that task just landed on his desk. "I believe we have the authority to impose criminal code," he says.

Kevin Cox and Police Chief Tim Longo have both called making non-shoveling a Class 1 misdemeanor "ridiculous."

Says Harris, "Is it legal? Yes. Is it reasonable? That's for Council to decide."


just another way for the city to try and put their two cents in.

Says Harris, ââ?¬Å?Is it legal? Yes. Is it reasonable? That’s for Council to decide.”


Well actually it seems it's for the courts to decide and they have.

Lots of City Code isn't actually legal and in multiple encounters that I've had with city staff, it's pretty clear that many city employees, even at fairly high levels, are either unaware of or completely unconcerned about what the law is anyway.

It seems the City Attornery's Office has an unwritten policy: Never speak unles Council asks. Just another example of bad governance by amteurs in Charlottesville.

The walk-shovelling ordinance has been around longer than 2003. It would seem the problem is that it is classified as a criminal offense, a Class I misdemeanor when it should be more along the lines of a civil matter,something like the car stickers city residents were once required to have. And there should be some discretion allowed-saying shovelling HAS to be done within a designated timeframe, no matter what, is unreasonable.
One hopes people would be good neighbors and shovel without an ordinance. Then again, there are are some who simply cannot shovel due to physical conditions.
What I find infuriating are those people who did not feel it was necessary to clean up after their dogs when there was snow. Did they did think it was going to melt along with the snow???


Cville screws up once again.

Isn't it about time we got rid of the Dillon Rule? It hampers municipalities to enact laws in their own communities. The Dillon Rule takes too much of a "one size fits all" approach.

Way to go Andre Hakes!! Tim should've cleaned his damned sidewalk but bringing light to bear on the legal situation is a good thing.

Richard Harris = Man of La Mancha. Put on the helmet of Mambrino and charge again!

who in the hell was the city attorney when this ordinance was passed in 2003? Isn't it his job to make sure that the ordinances are actually lawful and enforceable?

It's legal malpractice for the city attorney to not understand the Dillon Rule.

are you sure that wasn't deputy Barney Fife?

make sure he only has one bullet in his gun....

make it a civil fine just like every other town on the planet..

Potentially, 12 months in jail and/or a $2,500 fine for not shoveling your sidewalk? LOL

On top of that, if you were ever sentenced the max fine plus jail, you would lose income for a year, pay court costs and attorney fees. Depending on your income this could equal tens of thousand of dollars!

So, I am down in Florida in the winter, hire someone who never shows up to shovel snow should it snow, get home in the Spring and face jail and a fine for an unshoveled sidewalk.

Whoever thinks these ridiculous laws up should get a $2,500 fine and spend 12 months in jail!

And of those fined all cases were thrown out of court. Bad decisions piled on top of bad decisions. At least the courts and attorneys saw though the nonsense. Which makes you wonder why those that wrote the law were so myopic to begin with. And what annoying laws are they working on now to hassle more citizens?

Maybe pigeon poo should be removed from sidewalks before noon each day. That's worth at least $2,500 and a year in jail if you don't comply.

Maybe someone will post the names of those that voted for the sidewalk law. If they are still in office, lets vote them out.

Why does Charlottesville have a city attorney for? This seems pretty basic law. Perhaps they should hire Andre Hakes, who seems to understand law better then our current city attorneys.