By Al Dozier
Despite an outpouring of citizen opposition, the Irmo Town Council Tuesday approved an ordinance that makes it illegal for residents to park cars on their front lawns.
During a public hearing on the ordinance, several citizens described the measure as government overreach that would impose hardships on residents who do not have enough driveway space for three or four cars.
In a four-hour meeting attended by dozens of opponents, council approved the controversial measure by a vote of 3-2. Mayor Hardy King, Councilman Julius Waites and Councilman Mark Pouliot voted for the ordinance. Councilwoman Kathy Condom and Councilman Barry Walker Sr. opposed it.
The measure was designed to prevent an increasing practice by residents of parking their cars in their yards instead of designated driveways. The practice is seen as an eyesore by supporters of the measure who say it is decreasing property values.
But resident Tony Oravec said cars in yards are not decreasing property values, which are going up in the Irmo area.
“You’re spending a lot of time on something that’s not quantitative,” he said.
Resident Wayne McDaniel chastised the council for passing an ordinance he said would impose a hardship for everybody.
“We are not doing anything wrong…just parking cars.”
Resident Susan Pope said, “I don’t want people telling me what to do and how to do it. We should focus more on crime. This is a farce. We need to focus on crime, not grass.”
Resident Daniel Newbanks said it shouldn’t be the town council’s responsibility to determine property values.
But Pouliot said “we have to do something” to address problems that ultimately result in decreasing property values.
“I’ve seen communities go down and politicians do nothing,” he said. “It’s not an attempt to hurt anyone.”
Waites said he has lived in the area since the 1980s and has seen a steady deterioration in some neighborhoods.
Former Town Attorney Jake Moore said the town should consider alternative solutions to deal with the problem. He said the town could obtain a site near residential communities that would provide free parking. The town could also consider providing help to residents who needed assistance in reshaping parking spots.
A parking ban is “hitting citizens with a baseball bat,” he said. “Before you do that, explore to see if there is something else you can do.”
As the council prepared to pass the ordinance, Walker sarcastically commented that he is sorry to his constituents that the town is preparing “to send people to jail and fine them $1,000” for parking cars in their own yard.
But King noted no one is likely to wind up in jail for the violations and that any fines would likely be much lower than $1,000, depending on what a judge decides.
While the measure prohibits yard parking, it permits residents to park in a designated parking spot that is paved or graveled. The parking spot could be set up with pine needles.
The ordinance also allows residents with special issues to consult with the town administrator, who could allow an exemption. The measure also permits limited-time yard parking for special family events.
The council also included a grace period for residents who need time to set up new parking spaces.