Greenport homeowners outraged over blizzard fines; Village says they should know the law

More than a dozen Greenport property owners appeared in Southold Justice Court Wednesday after receiving summonses for snow removal or parking violations during a recent blizzard.

Residents are speaking out against the fines on social media and many in court fought the charges for not shoveling their sidewalks fast enough or having their cars on the streets during the record storm.

The blizzard walloped the North Fork with over two feet of snow the last weekend of January, but according to village code, vehicles parked or abandoned after a snowfall of two inches or more, or after the announcement of a snow emergency prohibition are subject to a fine of $100 per day. It’s illegal for vehicles to be on village roads or streets until the snow has been removed or cleared unless it’s attended by a driver. Greenport issued a snow alert ahead of the January storm.

The owners or occupants of land adjoining village sidewalks must also remove snow or ice within 24 hours, according to village code. The code says any offense is punishable by a fine of $250 or an imprisonment of up to 15 days. Each day is a separate violation.

Those in court pleaded guilty in exchange for reduced fines ranging from $125 to $25. One Greenport resident, Randy Wade, chose to go to trial rather than accept the charge. Ms. Wade told the judge the street had already been plowed and she moved the car while she was shoveling her driveway. “Should be a quick trial,” Justice Dan Ross remarked.

Several residents told The Suffolk Times they were out of town when the tickets were issued.

Norman Nemec was on call at the Manhasset Fire Department for the snowstorm, so he couldn’t shovel. He said he received the summons two days after the blizzard.

“I can’t be in two places at once,” he said before the judge. Mr. Nemec’s fine was reduced from $75 to $50 on the stand after he pleaded “guilty with an explanation.”

Rosemary Gutwillig, who pleaded guilty for a reduced fine of $50, said she was “outraged.” Ms. Gutwillig splits her time between the city and Greenport, but says her legal address is in Greenport and she “spends much more time here than in the city.”

“I think the whole thing’s a big joke,” she said of the snow shoveling violations. “I think it’s bizarre that in 38 years I never received a summons.” 

Mary Ellen Campbell represented her 87-year-old mother, who is on oxygen, in court. Ms. Campbell herself is undergoing cancer treatment, she said. A neighbor used a snowblower in front of the house, but the sides weren’t possible because of the plows, she said. 

The ticket is “ridiculous,” Ms. Campbell said, adding that her mother has lived in Greenport her entire life with no issues. The fine was dropped to $25, the most significant reduction Wednesday. A few people with appearance tickets did not appear in court. 

Greenport homeowner Gwen Groocock, who was issued five charges — one was dismissed and the other four were reduced to $125 each — said the people issued tickets for not shoveling are “exactly the people you would expect … the frail and elderly. Totally shameful.”

Ms. Groocock said the village should make more of an effort to “communicate and be flexible” with residents.

“If I had known, there’s no way I would just leave it like that. In my case, it was a miscommunication,” said Ms. Groocock, who rents to tenants and was unaware they had not shoveled.

Mayor George Hubbard said by phone after court that the code has been in effect since the 1980s. Someone who only just moved to town might not know, but the “neighbors and everybody else knows,” he said. “It’s not something new.”

He isn’t sure exactly how many tickets were issued, but said more tickets than usual were probably issued after this storm because “people weren’t shoveling their sidewalks.” Village attorney Joe Prokop declined to comment after court. 

“Hopefully everybody understands that it’s really just a safety issue,” Mr. Hubbard said. “I know some people complained that there were elderly people in the house and they weren’t able to shovel the sidewalk. But at the same token, those people wouldn’t be able to be checked on. You wouldn’t be able to get to their house if there was an emergency, if the sidewalk wasn’t shoveled and you couldn’t get to the house.” 

Unshoveled sidewalks are “a safety issue all the way around,” he added.