Town to draw up regulations dealing with urban avalanche danger

Last winter was a wakeup call

By Mark Reaman

The Crested Butte Town Council will soon consider new regulations meant to help prevent so-called urban avalanches that shed from roofs onto public rights-of-way.

There are certain buildings in town that are commonly known to shed snow during the winter and several cars have been damaged as a result. This past winter, there were several instances of roofs shedding and burying people throughout the northern valley. Chief marshal Mike Reily brought the issue to the council at the April 15 council meeting.

In a memo to the council Reily said the issue was a public safety concern. “With potential areas of concern identified, the issue seems to be what the Town should do to address buildings which shed onto public rights-of-way,” he wrote. The council leaned toward coming up with an ordinance that would require building owners or the building’s tenants to remove the snow once it becomes an obvious danger.

In his memo, Reily identified a half-dozen buildings that consistently have snow shedding issues. They included the Donita’s building, the Grubstake and Company Store buildings, the museum, Elk Avenue Prime and the Crested Butte Emporium building. Town-owned buildings that could cause a problem include the Center for the Arts, the Old Town Hall, the Visitors Center and the Four-way Transit Center.

“Human life is more important than a crushed car, so some buildings are more dangerous than others,” noted council member Laura Mitchell. “Elk Avenue Prime is scary sometimes.”

“It builds up and because it is north-facing it doesn’t melt fast. It can look pretty bad,” agreed Reily. “But it doesn’t slide because of the shake shingles. The one that got me was the Donita’s building. It shed an incredible amount of snow one day last winter onto the sidewalk. It was probably eight feet deep in spots. Luckily no one was walking by when it slid because it could have killed someone.”

Mayor Jim Schmidt said he had never seen the Elk Avenue Prime roof slide. “So is it a problem?” he asked.

“Good question,” responded Reily. “I’ve never seen it slide either but everyone sees [the accumulation] and wonders what would happen if it goes. It holds a lot of snow over the sidewalk.”

Town attorney Barbara Green said the current town rules deal with snow in the public rights-of-way but not before the snow slides to that point. “That’s the nugget we’re trying to solve from a safety perspective,” she said.

“This winter highlighted awareness of how truly dangerous it can be,” agreed Schmidt.

“We’ve been lucky in the past,” said Reily. “Nothing has happened so far where we have had to take action but we can be more proactive with an ordinance.”

“A primary charge of the council is life safety,” said citizen Kent Cowherd. “So this makes sense. It doesn’t have to be rocket science.”

Green said the council could act to have an ordinance that mandated a number of mitigation measures or it could require building owners to get rid of the snow within a certain timeframe, for example 24 hours after a major storm, or else the town would hire a contractor to do it and bill the owner or tenant.

The council felt the immediate action alternative was the best road to take. Council will have the staff draw up an ordinance to that effect.

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