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A trio of vehicles in front of a home on Enolam Boulevard Southeast in Decatur. The city has no ordinance about how many cars can be parked at a residence.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
A trio of vehicles in front of a home on Enolam Boulevard Southeast in Decatur. The city has no ordinance about how many cars can be parked at a residence.

Ban on parking
on lawns?

Decatur faces hurdles in eliminating vehicles killing grass, property values

By Chris Paschenko
chris@decaturdaily.com · 340-2442

Whether they’re rusty yard ornaments or automobiles parked on lawns, they are driving down property values and speeding up neighborhood decay, some Decatur residents say.

Jeff Foxworthy, a well-known Southern comedian, once said you know you’re a redneck if you mow your yard and find a car, but some Decatur neighborhoods have too many cars parked on lawns to grow grass.

Decatur has ordinances that, through threat of hefty fines, attempt to keep communities clean. The ordinances prohibit residents from parking vehicles and leaving hunks of junk in their yards.

But some residents say the city can’t legislate neighborhood pride, and that no amount of enforcement could correct the blight.

Mayor Don Kyle said Decatur leaders tried to address the issue by looking at ordinances in other cities that limit the number of cars parked on residential lots.

“The only rules I know of on the books have to do with junk automobiles,” Kyle said. “If they have current tags on them and appear to be in operating condition, there’s not a limit at present put on them.”

Jerry Galloway, director of Huntsville’s Community Development Department, said the city decided against passing a similar measure.

“It would be difficult to legislate and require more manpower to enforce,” Galloway said. “But in terms of restricting the number of cars, the city’s just never did it.”

Kyle said Decatur can’t limit the number of relatives living in a single-family home and that in turn hinders the ability to limit the number of vehicles.

“We’ve not found anything in checking with a few cities that would pass legal muster that would allow us to limit the number of cars in a household,” Kyle said. “There are some that can afford to own three, four, five, six vehicles or more and keep them all insured and tagged.”

Cupertino’s solution

Passing “legal muster” isn’t a problem, however, in Cupertino, Calif., senior code enforcement officer Gary Kornahrens said.

Cupertino is a city with a population of 54,000 situated in Silicon Valley south of San Francisco. He said Cupertino, which is the home of Apple Inc., places a four-car limit on lots up to 10,000 square feet.

Kornahrens said the city rarely uses its “more-than-four-cars ordinance.” Other ordinances, like those restricting inoperable vehicles or preventing people from parking on lawns or dirt, suffice to correct the problem.

“When we have someone with that many (cars), we put the screws to them to move them to the street,” he said. “We don’t use the ordinance often, but it’s never been challenged in the 20 years I’ve been here.”

Other cites, like Sunnyvale, Calif., Mankato, Minn., and Fort Collins, Colo., have ordinances preventing residents from using lawns as parking lots.

Fort Collins even uses its city Web site to praise those who maintain their property. Under its neighborhood-services page, the city has a picture of a manicured home next to another photo of the “violation of the month.”

Decatur violations

A recent tour of two Decatur neighborhoods revealed violations already prohibited by city code.

Robert Lewis Gillies, who lives in the 2000 block of Enolam Boulevard Southeast, had three cars parked in his front yard last week. One is covered by a tarp, but none of the automobiles have current tags. Neighbors said the cars detract from property values but were unwilling to speak publicly.

Attempts to reach Gillies for comment failed when no one answered the door. He has no telephone number listed. Gillies is by no means the only one parking cars on yards.

Gillies’ cars are all backed up to his house, and city inspectors are unable to go on private property without a sworn affidavit. Consequently, inspectors say they can’t tell whether the cars are properly licensed.

Common situation

The situation is common along Enolam Boulevard, Seventh Street Southeast and Eighth Street Southeast, which is one of the two major thoroughfares visitors take to reach heavily attended festivities at Point Mallard Park.

Donald E. Kelley is listed as the owner of vacant property on Fourth Avenue Northwest just north of West Moulton Street. Neighbors said a rotting semi trailer has been parked on the residential lot for years. The trailer has a 1989 Morgan County license plate.

No one answered the phone Friday at Kelley’s Hillsboro home.

“It’s been there at least three years, and has never moved out of that one spot,” Nicole Harris said.

Demetrius Cowley lives in a brick home across the street from Kelley’s lot.

“I’ve not heard anyone complain,” Cowley said. If the trailer was removed, “I think it would most definitely improve the neighborhood.”

Michelle Jordan, director of Community Development, said code inspectors have seen the trailer and are working to ensure the trailer meets city code requirements.

“It’s already in the system, and the clock is ticking,” Jordan said.

David Lee, a code inspector with Community Development, said the trailer would meet city code if it had a current license and if all the tires were inflated.

The owner of a nearby vacant home at Moulton Street and Fourth Avenue knows Kelley, and said she doesn’t think the decaying trailer, and construction materials stored inside, are an eyesore.

“It’s no worse than some of the houses rotting,” Josephine Owens said. “The whole neighborhood was beautiful years ago when teachers and people who worked in factories lived there. The trailer isn’t bothering me a bit.”

Owens said she wouldn’t mind if the trailer were parked next to where she lives in Southeast Decatur. She said she’s against the city implementing more stringent laws governing cars in yards.

She also said she’s had trouble maintaining and protecting her vacant home and other property from vandals. She said there is likely only one solution to correcting the city’s less-than-stellar image in some neighborhoods.

“The only way to get rid of a trashy city is to get rid of the trashy people,” Owens said.

Councilman David Bolding said he has not had many complaints from residents about people parking cars in front yards.

“I’m mainly hearing about cars in backyards,” Bolding said. “As far as parking on your grass is concerned, we discourage it, but there is no law on the books. I’d be in favor of it, but we’d have to look into how the law is written.”

Bolding said the situation is prevalent only in a few neighborhoods.

Lee said that the city receives few complaints about the number of vehicles parked on a residential lot. Most complain strictly of junk cars, he said.

Kyle said some of the city’s newer subdivisions have measures that restrict where residents can park cars. He said he would investigate yard ordinances implemented in Cupertino, Calif.

“If you want to put an ordinance like that in place, you’ve got to evaluate whether it’s worth the cost to enforce it across the board on everybody,” Kyle said. “If it becomes an overwhelming problem, then it would move up the priority list. But right now our inspectors seem to be pretty busy with what’s on their plate.”

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