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Thread: Residents using rear yards as parking lots

  1. #1
    Cyburbian stroskey's avatar
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    Residents using rear yards as parking lots

    Our commission is trying to require all vehicles parked in back yards to be on a hard surface. I think the goal is good but the enforcement will be a challenge to the parking officer. At one meeting a commission member said because the neighborhoods "are old" is why we need this new rule. I went out and did some research over the weekend. My question is more sociological than planning but please give me your two cents.

    I drove around the older neighborhoods in my town and many people have old cars, boat trailers, etc. in their back yards. Mind you most of these properties have driveways off of the street as well. I then drove around a large nearby town where the neighborhoods are more dense with only alley access to the garages and in the older neighborhoods (which is also upper-middle-class) there were no cars, boats, or vehicles in the rear yards. In the suburbs where people have driveways there were no boats or other vehicles in the rear yards. We already don't allow junk vehicles in yards so it's not a question of "poor people keeping junk" but why do our residents (both wealthy and not wealthy) keep so many cars and vehicles in the rear yards that the commission even needs to propose an ordinance? Why do the nicer old neighborhoods with less off-street parking in other cities not have this problem but it is a huge eyesore in a town where almost everyone has a driveway?

    On a personal note - I've longed wanted a Jeep Wrangler for off-roading but can't bear to think of keeping it in the rear yard. It would just look tacky.
    I burned down the church to atone for my transgressions.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    I can see some issues with this sending mixed messages.

    First of all we as planners should be promoting less permeable surfaces not more. Hard surfaces lead to runoff which in turn leads to erosion or overtaxes sewers.

    Secondly, my agency actually promotes putting cars on the grass as a way to get a two-fer. That being a clean car and watering grass. Much of the car washing done on hard surfaced driveways ends up with additional water in the storm sewers. This water often times has a higher concentration of cleaning products and not all cleaning products are good for the waterway that the storm sewer eventually ends up in.

    What is the issue? Does the planning commission want to limit cars? Do they find it to be unsightly? If so there are other methods to control this.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  3. #3
    Cyburbian stroskey's avatar
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    There are commissioners who do not like the looks of cars piled in rear yards. I think it comes down to that. A second issue may be the type of people that own these cars. I don't disagree that cars in the rear yard are ugly but that doesn't address the real problem the commissioners have.
    I burned down the church to atone for my transgressions.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    It sounds like it's a cultural thing with a bit of economics thrown in. It sounds like the folks in your municipality are more blue collar/hillbilly who like to work on old cars and trailer their boats to go fishing or water-skiing while the folks in the other jurisdictions might be more white collar/sophisticates who don't pursue those kinds of hobbies or who can afford to store their "toys" elsewhere. Many HOAs have prohibitions about storing boats, RVs, etc on premises, too, and that would discourage people who collect "toys" from buying there.

    Even within the same municipality, certain neighborhoods just seem to attract people with different cultural values. When I lived in suburban Albany, my neighborhood was definitely the old car/motorboat on a trailer/RV in the backyard with chain link fence kind of area whereas just about a half mile north, in the same town, you simply wouldn't find those in backyards any more than you would find chain link fences.

    IMO, unless somebody looks to be turning his backyard into a junkyard, it's his own business what he stores back there.
    If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich. -- John F. Kennedy, January 20, 1961

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Plus Whose Yur Planner's avatar
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    I'm also in the no harm, no foul category. Really, unless vehicles are junk, this is a non issue. If they are junk, you can go after them that way, not for parking in the back yard.
    When did I go from Luke Skywalker to Obi-Wan Kenobi?

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Streck's avatar
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    I sympathize with your problem.

    Keep in mind that according to code, anyone could pave the entire space in the back yard that is considered Buildable Area (ie, the space to the rear of the building that is not in the Required Rear or Side Yards. Of course paving of the entire area, or portion thereof, would probably require a Building Permit, which of course could be turned down, but you ought to be sure you can defend this in court.

    It may be that your code should be revised to limit parking of automotive vehicles to four in the Rear Yard unless a six foot high opaque fence is erected to screen parking in the rear.

    Of course this might not solve your immediate problem, because they might claim "grandfathering rights."

    In that case, you might have to rely on the "nuisance" provision of your code. Could your city attorney defend this as a visual nuisance or blight? Would this constitute an illegal non-residential use "vehicle storage yard?"

    Probably not, but it is probably a good idea to change your code by amendment in order to prevent future similar problems in other locations.

    Of course, if the complaintant is still dissatisfied, he can file his own lawsuit on the offender on whatever grounds he thinks is appropriate.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    I see this as a class problem as well. I don't see how you are going to be able to get those people and their jalopies to be more refined and tasteful like everyone else, but I do see how you can recommend the nuisance laws to limit dust- and tarp-covered family heirlooms/future collectables to no more than X. I suspect using the impervious argument might be your best shot, but not knowing the appointeds/electeds it is hard to say.
    -------
    Give a man a gun, and he can rob a bank. Give a man a bank, and he can rob the world.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian SW MI Planner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by stroskey View post
    We already don't allow junk vehicles in yards so it's not a question of "poor people keeping junk" but why do our residents (both wealthy and not wealthy) keep so many cars and vehicles in the rear yards that the commission even needs to propose an ordinance?
    We can't limit the number of operable cars (licensed, insured, and can run) on a property, but can limit their location and and conditions (paved, etc.). So, I think you have to look at this - if you don't want them in the backyard, where would you want them? I personally would rather them be parked in a driveway but for those properties that can't accomodate the vehicles would think the backyard as the best spot. Though I wouldn't want to live next door to a house that had cars parked in the front or the back, whether they were rundown beaters or a brand new beamer.

    Quote Originally posted by DetroitPlanner
    Secondly, my agency actually promotes putting cars on the grass as a way to get a two-fer.
    Promotes *washing* cars on the grass, or parking cars on the grass? I understand the argument about impervious surfaces, but I also see the argument about parking/storing something on the grass that contains multiple fluids that can leach into the groundwater.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian ursus's avatar
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    We have similar problems in a few older sections of the suburb I work for. We enforce it through parking regs that require all vehicles to be parked on an approved surface.

    Sociologically, it's a question of space, I think. The lots in older sections of town are generally more narrow and deep. Newer (more horrible in my opinion) sections of suburbia have broad lots with less depth and flare-out driveways to accommodate extra vehicles, fifth wheels, boats and whatever. They also have three car garages. When you're on an old lot with a one-car detached garage 150 feet to the rear and you fill that garage up with your other garbage, the 1973 Chevy Nova you inherited from Uncle Joe winds up on the grass near the garage in the backyard. Sociology, demography, historical property division patterns.
    "...I would never try to tick Hink off. He kinda intimidates me. He's quite butch, you know." - Maister

  10. #10
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by SW MI Planner View post
    Promotes *washing* cars on the grass, or parking cars on the grass? I understand the argument about impervious surfaces, but I also see the argument about parking/storing something on the grass that contains multiple fluids that can leach into the groundwater.
    Yes, not for long-term parking!
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by ursus View post
    1973 Chevy Nova
    Whoa... flashback..

    I must say, it does sound to me like someone is trying to regulate the finer points of good taste...
    Life and death of great pattern languages

  12. #12
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Luca View post
    Whoa... flashback..

    I must say, it does sound to me like someone is trying to regulate the finer points of good taste...
    probably wasn't the SS model!
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Kingmak's avatar
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    Screening. What does your code say about screening requirements? We have screening requirements for recreational vehicles, trash bins, etc. Perhaps amend the code to require x amount of screening for operable vehicles in rear and side yards. Place a generous grace period, and then hand it over to CE.
    "The first rule of sustainability is to align with natural forces, or at least not try to defy them." - Paul Hawken

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