Daily photos by Emily Saunders|
The house at 1917 Eighth St. S.E. is vacant, with an SUV parked in the front yard with an expired 1998 license tag. A city ordinance prohibits parking inoperable cars — which include cars that run but are not properly licensed — in plain view of a street or alley, but there is no prohibition on properly licensed vehicles in yards.
Yards as car lots
3 Alabama cities ban autos on grass; Decatur residents have no legal recourse to protect property values if vehicles are properly licensed
By Chris Paschenko
At least three Alabama cities have ordinances prohibiting residents from parking vehicles in front yards, and a fourth could soon decide if the practice constitutes a public nuisance.
Madison, Montgomery and Homewood ban the long-term parking of multiple-ton, lawn-killing yard ornaments on front lawns, and Tuscaloosa could join the ranks in June.
Residents in Decatur, however, have no legal recourse to protect their property values from neighbors who use their front yards as parking lots for properly licensed vehicles.
Homeowners and city officials across the state say the result turns front yards into muddy eyesores that hamper the sale of nearby homes and turn off future residents searching for a clean environment to call home.
Value of appearance
After 40 years combined service with the U.S. Air Force and civil service at Redstone Arsenal, David Henderson of Madison said he knows a thing or two about relocating.
“I’ve traveled enough based on government service, and one of the first things I do is look at a neighborhood to see if it’s clean and presentable where I want to raise my children,” Henderson said.
The August 2006 decision by Madison’s City Council to prohibit long-term parking on front lawns was an effort to attract the thousands of residents potentially moving to North Alabama as a result of the Pentagon’s Base Realignment and Closure project.
“With what folks are spending on homes nowadays, we want property value to go up and make it more attractive for BRAC folks coming to the area,” said Madison City Councilman Bob Wagner.
A trailer home at 1917 Eighth St. S.E. bears a tag that expired in 1991.
“We wanted to have a tool to improve the value of homes … Since we’ve put it in place, we’ve had nothing but thank-yous. It’s worked well, and many of the complaints from the past have disappeared.”
Madison resident Eric Fraser said he was out of town when the city issued his wife a citation to move their car from the front lawn.
“The problem is I’ve got three cars, and I don’t care what the ordinance is. I’ll park my car where I want,” Fraser said. “But I’m a Realtor, and I understand the importance of not leaving cars on lawns long enough to cause property damage.”
Madison Realtor Sara Whitworth said she hates to see cars on lawns.
“If people park in yards, it’s not a beautiful property,” Whitworth said. “It affects the sale of the property, and the sale of other properties.”
Decatur has an ordinance that prohibits residents from parking inoperable cars — which includes cars that run but are not properly licensed — within plain view of a street or alley. The ordinance also requires residents to house inoperable cars in approved, enclosed, covered structures.
Decatur Council President Billy Jackson said he began discussing an ordinance that prohibits cars on lawns at least four years ago with Michelle Jordan, director of the city’s Community Development and Planning departments.
“I think it’s important to research it before we move for a blanket ordinance,” Jackson said. “It’s important to evaluate the impact it will have in Decatur … It would impact my community more so than any other.”
Jordan said the cost of concrete is part of the equation, if the city required residents to park cars in driveways made of an approved surface.
Cities can approve alternate driveway surfaces, such as asphalt or stone.
Jackson said the effect on city government must be evaluated, such as the cost of enforcement.
“We have six inspectors who are operating at breakneck pace,” Jackson said. “That could potentially double the workload.”
Decatur Mayor Don Kyle said parking cars on front yards is detrimental to a neighborhood when vehicles kill lawns.
1610 Tower St. S.E. shares its yard with parked cars, at least one missing a tag.
“But I’m not ready to legislate retroactively something that’s been allowed for years and years,” Kyle said. “Hopefully, we can encourage residents with the rules we’ve got now to pay attention and step up and improve things on their own.”
In Montgomery, residents generate many of the complaints about neighbors parking on front lawns, said Eddie Hill Jr., chief property maintenance inspector for the capital city.
Kyle said Decatur residents generated about half of the 3,600 weed, junk and litter ordinance citations issued by Community Development last year.
“I’m not against having better rules to keep that from happening,” Kyle said. “But I’m not sold on any other ordinance I’ve seen yet as being really fair. We’ve got to find something to get people’s attention and readily enforce it without being open to reversal appeals beyond municipal court as has been done in the past.”
Montgomery has never had its ordinance challenged beyond the City Council to circuit court, Hill said.
Meanwhile, Decatur residents continue to voice their concerns at community meetings and to The Daily about neighborhood blight issues.
Kathy Hammond has for the past five years lived near a vacant home at 1917 Eighth St. S.E., which has a sport utility vehicle on the front yard and a camper trailer in the back. The SUV’s license plate is visible from a street heavily traveled by patrons attending city showcase festivals at Point Mallard Park. The SUV’s license expired August 1998, and the sleeper camper with its flat tires has a tag that expired November 1991.
Neither vehicle is stored in an approved, enclosed, covered structure and both are in plain view of the street and alley.
Morgan County revenue commissioner records list the homeowner as Terry D. Kay, who lists an address as P.O. Box 1671, Decatur, AL. There is no phone number listed in Decatur for Kay, and a phone number for the 1917 Eighth St. S.E. address for an M. Williams has been disconnected.
Susan Hicks, a caretaker who works nearby, said the SUV hasn’t moved in more than a year.
“Someone comes by and takes care of the yard,” she said.
Hammond said the camper is definitely an eyesore.
“It hasn’t moved from that spot,” Hammond said. “I haven’t complained to the city because I didn’t know there was anything that could be done about it. My cat gets under it sometimes, and I have to pull her out from the weeds. I don’t know if it’s used as storage or what. It’s probably full of rats.”
As for parking on lawns, Hammond said, “I don’t understand how you can sit there and let your property go to pot.”
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