Front-yard parking still volatile issue in Raleigh

Staff WriterSeptember 16, 2010 

  • Raleigh currently has no rule against parking in front yard. The only requirement is that single-family homes devote no more than 40 percent of the yard area to driveway and parking.

    City Council Member Thomas Crowder's original proposal would have kept the 40 percent limit, but capped allowable parking space, in addition to the driveway, at 330 square feet. Raleigh's Planning Commission changed that to 425 square or 40 percent, whichever is larger. Crowder encouraged members of Raleigh's Comprehensive Planning Committee on Wednesday to change it to 380 square feet or 40 percent, whichever is smaller, because 425 square feet would eclipse small yards and 40 percent of larger yards could be as large as a basketball court, he said.

    Residents who can't afford or don't want to restructure their driveways to meet the standards must park single-file, perpendicular to the curb, or park on the street.

— A contentious proposal to ban front-yard parking in most Raleigh neighborhoods is pitting residents who say government has no business in their driveway against others who insist parking in yards decreases property values, harms the environment - and is just plain tacky.

If enacted, the proposed ordinance would require thousands of Raleighites to pull their cars out of the front yard and possibly spend thousands of dollars to pave part of their lawns for parking.

Members of a City Council committee discussed the proposal at length and heard from citizens on both sides at a meeting Wednesday, but asked city staff for further analysis before they make a recommendation to the full council.

That didn't stop residents from chiming in. Eight people, most of whom live in southwest Raleigh , spoke in favor of the ordinance. City Councilman Thomas Crowder wrote it last summer after five years of conversations with constituents who view parking in front yards as trashy and potentially harmful to water quality.

"This ordinance would solve the problems we're trying to solve," said Jason Hibbets, 32, who lives in Crowder's district off Lake Wheeler Road. "It's an issue of property rights versus community rights. If a neighbor is doing something that impacts my property and community, the city probably needs to step in."

Two spoke against the measure - a self-described "liberal Democrat" who deemed it too intrusive, and a rental property owner who said it's too expensive for those who would have to pave their driveways to meet the new requirements.

"This is just another boondoggle by Mr. Crowder to get students, minorities and renters out of his neighborhood," Jerome Goldberg told the City Council's Comprehensive Planning Committee Wednesday. "People have done this a certain way for decades, and now the city wants to tell them they can't."

Goldberg, who works for Raleigh's inspections department, owns five rental homes near the N.C. State campus.

Front-yard parking is especially prevalent around the university because groups of students rent single-family homes. Many owners of rental property in the area spoke against the ordinance when the issue came to a boil last year.

"It's a backdoor way of getting the students out is what it is," Alvis Denning, who owns a student rental near campus, said a year ago. "They want the benefits of the college without the realities."

But on Wednesday, Mary Belle Pate, 69, who lives off Tryon Road in southwest Raleigh, defended Crowder. She said he's simply responsive to his constituents' concerns.

"He's not out to get anybody,' Page said. "He's trying to make the city better because he's a Raleigh native."

The city has no rule against parking in the front yard. The only limitation is that single-family homes devote no more than 40 percent of the yard area to driveways and parking.

Crowder's original proposal would have restricted the additional parking space outside of the driveway of most homes. Raleigh's Planning Commission increased that area, and Crowder countered Wednesday with a compromise.

"This is something important not just to my district but the entire city when it comes to fragile communities," Crowder said. "We don't want to see our communities turned into commercial parking lots."

Environmentalists' view

The environmental argument against front-yard parking is that cars kill grass and compact dirt and sediment, which seep into groundwater and run into streams during a downpour. Mark Vander Borgh, chairman of the West Citizens Advisory Council, told the committee in August that erosion and sediment runoff are some of the biggest threats to water quality.

But paved surfaces, the number of which would increase under the ordinance, exacerbate runoff and cause oil and other harmful substances to pollute the water. That's been a major concern in protecting the Falls Lake watershed and keeping the reservoir clean. It's Raleigh's primary source of drinking water.

If the current ordinance passes, front-yard driveways and parking areas in new single-family homes would have to be made of surfaces that won't erode, such as concrete or asphalt, or of gravel or crushed stone with clearly defined edges. Such construction would cost anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. Existing paved parking areas would be exempt from the new rules. But owners of all other parking areas, including gravel and crushed stone, would have a year to comply with the new rule or find alternative parking, such as on the street. That's a problem for people who live on thoroughfares such as Ray and Leesville roads in North Raleigh, where there is no street parking. Many of those residents can't afford, or don't want, to pave their driveways. Officials say figuring out a solution for those residents has been the major roadblock for Crowder's ordinance.

How many homes?

City officials don't know how many homes the ban would affect. Determining the number would require a house-by-house evaluation using aerial maps, which Planning Director Mitchell Silver said would take at least a year.

Committee members Nancy McFarlane, Bonner Gaylord and Russ Stephenson asked planning officials to further explore economic impacts and to study a similar ordinance the city of Greensboro passed in 2008.

Last summer some compared the proposal to the council's botched attempt the previous year to outlaw garbage disposals. Council members shied away from the proposal then, and most haven't committed to the current ordinance, though many say something needs to be done.

"I don't know if I could support it at this point," Gaylord said. "There are too many unanswered questions."

ray.martin@newsobserver.com or 919-836-4952

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