RALEIGH -- For years City Councilman Thomas Crowder has heard complaints from his southwest Raleigh constituents about a practice that is practical to some and trashy to others: parking in the front yard.
Now Crowder has gone on the offensive against anyone who habitually puts tires to lawn. He has written a new ordinance that, if adopted, would require thousands of Raleigh residents to get their cars out of the front yard and possibly spend hundreds of dollars to pave parking areas.
"If it's not a problem it shouldn't be imposing on anybody," Crowder said. "It's an environmental issue. It's a stormwater and water quality issue. ... [I]t's a quality of life issue."
Although City Council isn't likely to vote on the ordinance until September, a public hearing this week made clear that Crowder has touched a nerve.
Among the opponents is Councilman Philip Isley, who says this is the latest and most egregious attempt by the city to tell residents what they can and can't do on their own property.
"This is beyond the nanny state," Isley said. "This is a homeowners association on steroids."
The city has no current rule against parking in your front yard. The only requirement is that single-family homes devote no more than 40 percent of the front yard area to driveway and parking.
"There was no way to enforce that," Crowder said, "because when you have no defined area people would just park all over the yard."
His proposal would keep the 40 percent limit but would cap allowable parking space, not including the driveway, at 330 square feet. That's enough room for two parking spaces.
Front yard driveways and parking areas in new single-family homes would have to be constructed of surfaces that won't erode, such as concrete or asphalt, or of gravel or crushed stone with clearly defined edges.
Existing paved parking areas would be exempt from the new rules. But owners of all other parking areas, including gravel and crushed stone, would be given one year to comply or find alternative parking, such as on the street.
"We can't even calculate how many homes would not be in compliance and that will have to pay anywhere from a couple of hundred to a thousand dollars to be brought into compliance," Planning Director Mitchell Silver said.
Crowder says his ordinance wouldn't force people to spend money -- it would just force some people to park somewhere else besides their front yard.
Yards lined with cars
The rules would be a major inconvenience for people like David Morton, who has eight vehicles in his front yard in southwest Raleigh. His family parks four cars perpendicular to his driveway in a way that would be illegal under Crowder's ordinance.
Morton, who has four drivers living in his house, said he bought his property 42 years ago because it offered ample parking space.
"It's been fine for 42 years and now they're telling me it's not?" said Morton, 72.
On the other side are homeowners such as Todd Pfrommer, 34, who lives on Faircloth Street in West Raleigh. His house is next to rental houses where N.C. State students line the front yards with cars, a situation that has him considering whether it's worth it to stay in the neighborhood.
"I'd rather not see this happen to anyone else," Pfrommer told the council at the public hearing this week.
The neighborhoods around N.C. State have been some of the strongest advocates for reining in lawn parking.
The University Park Homeowners Association supports Crowder's ordinance and has even asked that it be expanded to apply to backyards as well.
Alvis Denning, who owns a student rental house on Brooks Avenue near the university, said he views the ordinance as an attempt to rid the neighborhood of students.
"It's a backdoor way of getting the students out is what it is," said Denning, 75. "They want the benefits of the college without the realities."
Echoes of disposal ban
Several City Council members are already expressing reservations about adopting a citywide ordinance for an issue that may not be a problem in many parts of the city.
"We don't want to kill a fly with a giant sledgehammer," Councilor Nancy McFarlane said.
Others see parallels between Crowder's ordinance and the council's botched attempt to outlaw garbage disposals last year.
The council banned food grinders with little discussion, then repealed the ordinance six weeks later after residents expressed outrage at the city's intrusion into their sink.
"One of the things I learned from the garbage disposal thing is you don't tell people what to do with their personal property," Councilor Mary-Ann Baldwin said.
"They'll resent it."