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New ordinances for parking, on-street and off

Parking has been a big topic for Oak Ridge City Council in recent weeks, and on Monday evening we made our first final decisions on the subject when we passed two ordinances on second reading (that means they will go into effect soon). A third ordinance passed on first reading (that means it needs to be considered a second time before it becomes real).

A new municipal ordinance enacted Monday evening will prohibit parking of recreational vehicles, such as boats and RVs, and utility trailers on city streets, except for short periods (up to 7 days) for short visits or purposes such as loading and unloading from a trip. In nearly every neighborhood of the city, there have been concerns about long-term-parked motorhomes that impede visibility and sometimes limit access for emergency vehicles, boats stored on the street where residents would like to park, and trailers that haven’t been hitched to a motorized vehicle in any of the neighbors’ memories. This is going to “take some getting used to” around Oak Ridge. Not allowing these vehicles to park on the street will pose a problem for people whose lots don’t allow for off-street parking. However, public streets are maintained for transportation, not for storage of private property, and alternatives (such as “U-store” units) exist for people who have more “toys” can they can accommodate on their own property.

Accordingly, I’ve concluded that this is a good rule, and I hope that people whose boats and RVs are being displaced will be able to find storage for them – for example, in a friend’s driveway or a commercial storage unit.
The original version of that ordinance also would have prohibited street parking of “oversized/commercial” vehicles, but that part was removed on second reading, due to concerns about the way that class of vehicles was defined (I couldn’t be sure what it was intended to do, nor what effect it would have) and about the use of that definition in the associated zoning ordinance. Other amendments on second reading increased the short period of allowable parking from 3 days to 7 days (I’m glad for that, on behalf of residents who entertain visiting relatives and friends who travel with motorhomes) and added a provision (proposed by me at Monday night’s meeting) that vehicles may not be relocated on city streets at the end of the 7-day period. I think that provision should help ensure that the new ordinance works as intended, by preventing people from “gaming” the rules by moving their recreational vehicles from one parking spot to another.

The second ordinance enacted on Monday amends the city zoning ordinance to say that motor vehicles may not be parked on the “front” side of any property unless on a prepared (paved or graveled) parking surface that is connected to the street by a city-authorized curb cut. Additionally, it provides that the city may require the near-street parts of driveways to be paved (not just gravel) if there are problems with gravel or soil washing into the street or storm drains. Vehicles can still be parked on unprepared surfaces in the side yard or rear yard, but not in the setbacks required by city zoning code, and they can be parked in the front yard for unusual occasions (parties). As I see it, parking on the front lawn is mostly an aesthetic concern (although I don’t understand why people want to do this), but it can lower property values for the whole neighborhood, and the city government is justified in regulating this because of the public interest in maintaining an “orderly public realm”. It’s pretty clear to me that there is a city government interest in not allowing gravel to wash into city streets, where it can be a safety hazard and a stormwater problem.

The version of the zoning ordinance that passed on first reading also would have banned those “oversized/commercial vehicles” from being parked anywhere on a residential property, but there were problems with the vague definition and with a widely held opinion that many businesspeople (plumbers, electricians, etc.) should be allowed to have their business vehicles at home — particularly as many people also use their commercial trucks and vans for family transportation. Another amendment on second reading changed the driveway-paving requirement from a mandatory requirement to a discretionary one. Meanwhile, I’ve been assured that the city won’t be going after homeowners who have well-built driveways that apparently were never approved by the city as “curb cuts” — as indicated by the fact that the driveways cross a “rollover” curb.

That brings me to the third ordinance that passed on first reading — and that I expect will resolve a number of issues related to enforcement of existing parking rules (like the ordinance against parking on the sidewalk), as well as well as addressing the on-street parking of truly “oversized” vehicles. I need to run now, though, so I’ll tell that story later.

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4 Comments

  1. Hal Hoyt says:

    Hi Ellen,

    Is ‘front side’ of the property defined? What about ‘L-shaped’ houses like the Cemestos ‘C’ models? What about a house on a corner lot?

    Thanks,
    Hal

  2. Ellen Smith says:

    The definition of “front” is not at all straightforward. It’s my understanding that for a house that is oddly positioned on its lot (like many original houses in Oak Ridge), the front is the area between the house and the street, regardless of which side of the house is closest to the street. For a corner lot, I think that the side facing one street is the “front” and the side facing the other street is a “side”. For a lot that fronts and backs onto two different streets, I believe only one of them is the “front,” but I don’t know how that’s determined.

    You may be thinking that this means some eyesores won’t be removed from the public realm, and I believe you are right. I expect that some corner lots are going to continue to have boats, SUVs, utility trailers, etc., parked on the grass and visible from the street on whichever side is the “side.” Consider this one of the features of the new ordinances that’s going to be less than perfect…

  3. Hal Hoyt says:

    My concern was our own 3 trailers (boat, utility, and camper), 2 of which are parked in my side yard and 1 in my mother’s side yard. I think we’re OK with your understanding of ‘front’. I’d hate to have to park the smaller trailers in the carport and leave our nice pickup truck and LEAF outside.

  4. Ellen Smith says:

    When I first saw your message, my thought was that you shouldn’t keep your nice vehicles outside, but then I realized what you are saying: putting the trailers in the driveway and the cars in the carport would mean that the trailers would block the cars from getting out. Not good! I’m glad to be able to tell you that you can continue to keep your trailers in the side yards…

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