laramie snow shovel sidewalk clear removal

Matt Peterson shovels the sidewalk on a 2017 afternoon on the corner of Park Avenue and Fifth Street.

Laramie property owners will be expected to have their walkways cleared of snow and ice if an ordinance passes three readings by the City Council, the first of which is Tuesday.

The ordinance amends the city code on nuisance and abatement in several places. Notably, residents are now expected to have snow removed by noon the day following a snow event. Under the amended regulations, that snow should be cleared by 7 a.m. after it snows. The earlier removal time gives city staff the chance to begin working on enforcement at the beginning of a work day rather than mid-day, the staff notes read.

“It should also be noted that in the event snow is not removed by seven a.m. an additional 24 hours is given (seven a.m. the following day) to complete the removal before any abatement can occur,” the notes read. “Staff believes this is ample time to remove the snow, before it becomes difficult and costly to remove by a contractor through the abatement process.”

Mayor Joe Shumway said the intent is to make code more “citizen friendly.”

“It’s not a big problem until it snows, and then it’s a problem,” Shumway said.

Those who do not clear their snow and face an abatement process will also pay more under the proposed regulations. For any snow abatements, the current fee is the contractors cost plus a $50.00 administrative fee. The proposed ordinance includes a staff recommendation that the fee be $100 or 50% of the contractors fee whichever is greater.

Staff argue the fee is “simply too low,” and that “many individuals once we contact them will just allow the abatement to occur; thus, the City is managing the clean up process for a 20% fee.”

Furthermore, staff argue that in any instance where the abatement fees go to collections (In 2019 this accounted for 32% of all abatements) the $50 fee doesn’t even cover the cost of the abatement and cut the collection agency takes.

“Almost all items that go to collections are a net financial loss for the City,” staff writes.

No wind farm letter of supportPrior plans to have the city council vote Tuesday on a letter of support for the Rail Tie Wind Project was taken off the agenda and will not be considered at the meeting.

ConnectGen, a renewable energy development company based out of Houston, Texas, is in the permitting stages of constructing a 504-megawatt wind farm stretching across state and private land on both sides of U.S. Highway 287 just south of Laramie. Between 85 and 150 turbines, depending on the yet-to-be determined turbine model, could be located on 26,000 acres near Tie Siding.

Council’s vote in April was moved to Tuesday as there was criticism about considering the item while in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. A work session in June saw council members receive an earful of opposition to the project.

Project Manager Amanda MacDonald said it was a “joint decision” between ConnectGen and the city to hold off on the support letter for the time being. MacDonald said the item could potentially come back to council’s agenda in the future, but there’s no firm timeline.

Downtown zoning regulations

The city of Laramie’s Planning Commission in June advanced a proposal to amend the city’s regulations for buildings within the downtown district, which includes 25 city blocks, with a mix of stricter and looser measures. Now city council members will take on the proposed changes for a first reading during Tuesday’s meeting. Council had the item on its last regular meeting agenda, but it was delayed until Tuesday’s meeting.

If the new design amendments are passed, existing buildings would only need to be renovated to conform to the new rules when there’s a significant enough change of use that would require, under the city’s site planning regulations, having a building brought up to code.

Shumway said it’s always a tough line to walk in trying to foster a regulatory environment that helps downtown thrive and implementing unnecessary regulations that make it difficult for businesses to succeed.

“Hopefully everything we do is pro-business,” Shumway said. “We’ll be very careful in considering all their needs and abilities to stay in business. We try to find something that helps all businesses.”

The updated standards would not allow any storefront to utilize stucco, natural-finished wood, synthetic stone or metal siding. A non-storefront facade that faces another right-of-way would be allowed to have stucco or synthetic stone occupy up to 20% of the facade. A building would also be required to take up 80% of the square footage of the lot it occupies. A patio could constitute 20% of the required footprint.

The changes would also greatly increase the amount of transparent windows that must be present on buildings’ facades, increasing the ratio from 10 % to 70% of a street-facing facade to be composed from transparent materials, and the lowest edge of transparency can be no more than two feet off the ground. Floors above the ground floor would need to be 50% percent transparent, with a minimum of four-foot tall windows. However, buildings could be exempted from the window requirement by applying for a waiver on the grounds that the building is historical or culturally significant.

The code changes would also ban the use of temporary signs and banners, except signs advertising — for a brief period — special events. While it would be a requirement applying only to new buildings, the proposed changes include a minimum height for buildings of 30 feet.

On measures that would loosen regulations, the proposed revisions would allow for downtown buildings to be taller than currently allowed while setting a two-story minimum height. Currently, proposed new buildings can be no taller than the tallest existing structure on that block. The proposed changes would set a maximum height of 80 feet — one story taller than the Wagner building.

The proposed regulations would also allow for signs that protrude from a storefront to be larger than the current regulations. The current rule states that projecting signs can only go a third of the way from a building to the curb and should not exceed 15 square feet. The proposed changes would allow projecting signs to protrude halfway to the curb, with a size limit of 30 square feet.

The proposed change also would remove a rule in code that allows a building downtown to be no larger than 65,000 square feet.

(1) comment

Brett Glass

Wow: Is it reasonable to ask businesses to find a way to clear their sidewalks hours before their employees get to work or customers will show up, just because some member of the city staff finds it more convenient to inspect them early in the morning rather than at a decent hour? Should the city go after only the owner of a rental property whose tenants are causing a nuisance, rather than ticketing the tenants themselves, forcing the owner to play policeman? Is it reasonable to ask building owners to rip the perfectly nice looking fronts off of their buildings - which could cost as much as rebuilding the building in some cases - to satisfy the aesthetic whims of an unelected bureaucrat on the city staff? Do we really want "skyscrapers" downtown - even though they're completely out of character (our two tallest downtown buildings are both 5 stories)? Do we really want to make the downtown parking crisis even worse by preventing new buildings from including parking? So many of these proposals are just wrong, wrong, wrong. We need leadership which listens to the community and proposes reasonable, POSITIVE changes.

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