Cars on the grass pose puzzle, alas

It seems that tidying up residential parking in Raleigh is easier said than done

Staff WriterFebruary 1, 2006 

Shirley Morton's husband has always been a sucker for a good used car, and the evidence sits parked in their front yard on Kaplan Drive.

The Mortons keep eight vehicles in a jumbled line -- some on concrete, most on dirt, all of them apparently working. Two panel vans, a Ford Crown Vic, an Isuzu pickup with some lumber hanging off the back.

"We do have too many cars," said Morton, who has lived 40 years in Southwest Raleigh. "Sometimes he has to put jumper cables on them if they sit too long."

For months, the Raleigh City Council has wrestled with a way to keep people from strewing cars across their yards, creating erosion and eyesores.

Curbing cars is part of Raleigh's recent push to tidy up, which includes fines for leaving trash cans at the street or letting lawns grow too tall.

But parking is a trickier puzzle than it first seemed, said Councilman Thomas Crowder.

The city could tidy up, he said, by requiring cars to be parked in a defined space rather than at random. As the rules stand, every house needs just one slot, and it can be dirt or pavement, whatever the driver pleases.

You can see the result on Pineview Drive near the Mortons' home. A minivan sits parked sideways on the grass, a few inches from the street.

"Parking in your front yard is just like throwing your trash all over your front yard," said Elizabeth Byrd, a leader of the West Citizens Advisory Council. "It shows a lack of respect."

But the city also wants to keep paving to a minimum, Crowder said. Raleigh's rules allow a driveway to cover up to 40 percent of the front yard.

"If I were to pave 40 percent of my front yard," Byrd said, "it would be wider than the length of my house."

She would like to see cars confined to driveways, and driveways of reasonable size.

Raleigh leaders have been mulling over rule changes since spring, and the Comprehensive Planning Commission will likely take another look next month.

In older neighborhoods, where yard cars are part of Raleigh culture and restrictive covenants do not exist, the city can expect some fight.

"I pay taxes on them, and they're all legal," Morton said, gesturing to her collection. "Plus, we pay to have them inspected."

On Pineview nearby, there is no shoulder, so a driver has a choice of the driveway or the grass. Families with children who drive don't like to shift cars around if someone who is parked in the middle wants to move.

College students often live four to a house, and all of them drive to N.C. State University.

At Kent Road and Greenleaf Street, just off Western Boulevard, the yard is all dirt, gravel and cars.

Andrew Puryear moved in with three other students in August, and as far as he knows, there has never been any grass.

"It's terrible dirt to grow anything with anyway," he said.

Crowder said Raleigh might try a formula for driveway size based on the size of the lot, allowing for circular drives on busy streets.

Staff writer Josh Shaffer can be reached at 829-4818 or jshaffer@newsobserver.com.

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