QUESTION: Does a raft of newly-approved changes to Burlington’s unified development ordinance prohibit people from parking on the front lawns of residential properties? How does this rule affect owners of rental properties? Do they have to tow their tenants’ vehicles if they fail to comply with the city’s restrictions?
ANSWER: A small tweak to the city’s residential parking provisions was among a constellation of regulatory changes that Burlington’s city council recently approved to the city’s unified development ordinance.
These assorted revisions, which received the council’s unanimous blessing last Tuesday, also included some new standards for landscaping and fences, a new zoning category for vape shops and similar businesses, and a “reforestation” option for owners of vacant lots who want to pare back their lawncare responsibilities.
Yet, of all these sundry amendments, it was a seemingly minor adjustment to Burlington’s prohibition on parking in the front yards of homes that elicited any input from the public when the whole package of changes came up for a public hearing.
On the face of it, the operative revision merely clarifies where on a residential parcel the city’s existing prohibition is meant to apply. To be more precise, the new language stipulates that soil and grass may not be used as parking surfaces in areas that lie between the building and the street – in other words, the front yard of a home.
This revision nevertheless drew some guarded optimism from John Cole, a resident of Waverly Lane who approached the council during last Tuesday’s public hearing to share some concerns about parking habits in his own part of the city. Cole complained that the city’s previous parking restrictions had done nothing to discourage some of his neighbors from parking on their front lawns – to the eternal consternation of those like himself who are concerned about the community’s appearance.
“I have to look out the front of my house and see this every day,” he added. “If this is going to be an ordinance, it needs to be enforced. I worked in Greensboro my entire career, and they enforce it up there. They don’t play around.
“Hopefully with this new parking change,” the resident added, “this is going to be something that can be enforced.”
In response to Cole’s remarks, Chad Meadows, a planning consultant in the city’s employ, recalled that restrictions on parking in the front yards of homes had been part of the city’s unified development ordinance, or UDO, since its adoption four years ago.
“You have had standards on the books since 2019 that require vehicles to be in improved parking spaces on residential lots – not dirt and grass,” he explained. “[These standards] say that if you’re going to park a vehicle on a residential lot, that area needs to be improved…It’s gotta be surfaced with asphalt or concrete…You can also use gravel but that gavel has to be edged.”
Jamie Lawson, the city’s planning director, conceded that residents who had been parking on their front lawns had three years to make alternate arrangements before the city began to crack down on violators roughly -a year ago. Lawson added that the newly approved language merely gives code enforcement officers some clarity about where they should look for potential offenses.
“The change is clarifying that this area is only between the building and the street,” she informed the council. “Behind the building – we’re not regulating that.”
In a subsequent interview with The Alamance News, Chris Marland, the town’s chief code enforcement officer, confirmed that the city’s code enforcement staff has been actively enforcing the residential parking provisions since the end of the aforementioned grace period in November of 2022. Since then, Marland recalled, he and his colleagues have addressed vehicles parked on unimproved surfaces on both a complaint-based basis and on the staff’s own initiative.
“Typically, we’re going to try to make contact with somebody at the home to explain the violation,” he went on to elaborate. “From there, we will send [the property owner] a letter following up on that conversation, telling them what code they’ve violated, how to fix it, and what the penalties will be if they don’t.”
Marland added that a continued state of violation will result in a formal case being brought against the property owner – with the potential for financial penalties of up to $100 a day.
The city’s chief code enforcement officer noted that the city’s enforcement measures will generally fall to the property owner even in the case of rental housing.
“Any issue that you have with the property is ultimately the responsibility of the property owner,” he stressed. “This is a non-towable violation. So, it’s up to them whether they tow tenants’ vehicles. But they could get civil penalties if the violation continues, and that’s true for anything in the UDO.
“If we’re working with a property owner,” Marland added, “and the tenant gets increasingly egregious, we could start charging them instead. But we don’t do that with anything else in the UDO, and I want to keep our enforcement consistent.”
In either case, the city’s existing provisions elicited a range of responses from the city council during the public hearing last Tuesday.
Council member Kathy Hykes emphasized that the city’s parking restrictions need to be promulgated more clearly to residents who unwittingly violate the rules. Hykes added that she has heard from people who leave their cars in their front yards simply because they have lack the driveway space to accommodate all of their vehicles.
“They have three cars,” she said; “they’re trying to jockey and they end up in the front yard.”
Meanwhile, Harold Owen, the city’s mayor pro tem, stressed that the enforcement of the city’s parking requirements is ultimately the bailiwick of its code enforcement staff.
“I think it can keep the values in some neighborhoods higher than they otherwise might get,” he added.
In end, the council signed off on the whole catalog of proposed revisions, including the clarification regarding the city’s residential parking requirements.
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