Laurel leaders have been faced with addressing whether to enforce, amend, or selectively ignore a town ordinance pertaining to commercial truck parking on residential streets. During the Monday, Sept. 16, meeting of Laurel Mayor and Council, Town Manager Jamie Smith brought the issue of referencing Chapter 161, Section 38, of Town Code dealing with “Parking of Special Vehicles.”
The ordinance prohibits “motor vehicle” including mobile homes, travel trailers, house trailers, office trailers, camping trailers, boat trailers, enclosed or open utility trailers, school or commercial buses, dump trucks, motor trucks, motor homes, semitrailers, truck tractors and farm tractors, to park in a residential area for more than a two-hour period.
According to Smith, the town has received “a couple complaints” about commercial trucks parking on a residential street. Smith said she spoke with Police Chief Danny Wright and they both agreed that enforcing the ordinance by ticketing the truck owners could send a “negative statement” in some cases.
“The Police Chief and I feel that for persons who work in this town and operate a commercial vehicle, such as a dump truck or semi-trailer, to receive a ticket is a negative statement from the town and police department. We understand there is an ordinance in place and we would like to discuss options that may be feasible for the town, the residents, and these working individuals,” she said.
Smith said options discussed included developing an annual permit process for those commercial truck owners who request on-street parking. She said once an application is received, the Town Manager, Police Chief, Fire Chief and Director of Code Enforcement would review it.“The area in which the vehicle is proposed to be parked will be surveyed to determine that the parking of the commercial vehicle will not cause any safety concerns or impede the flow of traffic,” Smith said.
She said the permit would be $50 per year and no more than two such permits would be approved per city block, or 20 town-wide. The permit would enable the owner to park the vehicle no more than 12 hours per day, five days per week. For two days each week the vehicle would be allowed to be parked for a 24-hour period.
A second option, according to Smith, would be to allow trucks to park in the town’s parking lot located across the street from Town Hall. The town could revise its policy for vehicles parking in town parking lots to make it feasible for the working person who operates a commercial vehicle.” She said. “I would recommend semi-trucks with no attached trailers, school buses or dump trucks. I believe we need to specify these three type commercial vehicles only. The current ordinance references other type vehicles that are considered special vehicles, and I do not want to see these in the parking lot.”
The third option Smith said is to enforce the ordinance and allow no amendments. She said if the Mayor and Council elect this option, she would like to see a notification clause included. “I would request, that when a violations of such ordinance has occurred, the owner is notified in writing and given 72 hours to remove their vehicle. Failure to do so would result in the owner of the vehicle being fined, or the vehicle being towed. The current ordinance stipulates a fine and/or jail time. It does not allow an opportunity to notify the owner so the vehicle can be moved. It also does not allow the town to tow the vehicle. An amendment to the ordinance would need to be made,” she said.
Councilwoman Cheryl Martin said she would request there be no decision made about the truck parking issue until there were more discussions and all possible considerations be addressed for the benefit of the community at-large. “When we make this decision I want to be able to consider it all and not just make a decision off the top of my head,” she said.
Smith said she agreed and wanted to ensure the town considered everyone’s concerns including the truck owners, the residents and anyone who may be impacted. “We want to make a decision that best for the town overall and not just a couple of people,” she said.
Laurel Mayor John Shwed said the issue will be addressed over the next “couple of weeks” before a decision is made. He said however, that he would issue a general statement about his personal thoughts on the ordinance question. “This is a town, this is not a rural area,” he said. “We have a great, new branding that states ‘great things happen naturally.’ I think we need to think long and hard about any changes we might make to the present ordinance. That’s where I am on this issue.”
Council President Chris Calio expressed concerns about the town selectively enforcing its ordinances.“Currently the ordinance says these trucks are not supposed to park on the street. However, we have allowed them to park for all this time. Rather than continuing to do things incorrectly, should we vote for a stay on the ordinance as it is now until we make a further decision? On the other hand, should we start ticketing vehicles that are parked illegally based on our code?
Shwed said he feels the town needs time to allow staff to research and discuss how best to address the truck parking issue before making any formal decisions at the table.
Calio further expressed his concerns. “I understand that part of the issue. However, currently we are not enforcing a town code and it has been brought to our attention. I think this is setting a bad precedent,” he said.
Shwed said he would not be comfortable placing a stay on the ordinance. “I am not willing to vote for a stay on the ordinance,” he said. “What happens if 20 people start parking trucks because of a stay? I do not want that. I would rather we just keep on going with this as we have been doing until, and if, we make a change.”
Wright said that it would be important for everyone to recognize that should his department be forced to “go after” the commercial vehicles that are parking in violation of the town code, it will be necessary for them to go after all parking violations. He said this removes police officer discretion in terms of how best to address minor violations, especially when the department has an extraordinary enforcement load involving more significant criminal activities.
“Police officer discretion allows us to determine when and how we enforce this type of violation,” he said. “For instance, I make the decision that I will not ticket a vehicle if it is parked on the yellow lines if I know that person is attending church services. That is something I do. It is a discretionary thing.”
He went on to say he approached Town Manager Smith when he received a complaint about a commercial truck parking in violation of the code.
“We have people who are trying to earn a living,” he said.“We have allowed them to park like this for years. I think it is a bad idea to suddenly start ticketing them right from the beginning without looking at the issue more closely.”
Wright said it is impossible for his department to enforce “every single law” that is on the town books. “If you are expecting us to enforce every law it cannot be done. We just do not have enough people. Are we going to start ticketing people for not using the designated crosswalk to cross the street? I am not going to give a 70-year-old woman a ticket if she does not use the crosswalk. That is not going to happen. It is about common sense. We want our residents to want to be in this town. If we go after them super hard that does not help. We need to allow the Mayor and Council to consider this issue before making a decision. Everyone needs to understand that giving someone a ticket is a hardship. There are no tickets under a hundred dollars. This needs to be thought out,” he said.
Councilwoman Robin Fisher said she believes the council needs to be careful how it approaches the potential change in a town ordinance.“We need to be sure that this is an actual issue and not just a personal issue for a few people,” she said. “We are not here to monitor personal issues; we are here to do code enforcement and common sense enforcement.”
Laurel resident Betty Cassidy said she has been trying to get determination from the town regarding whether commercial trucks are allowed to park on residential streets, or does the town code prohibit this. Cassidy said she was observing a house fire on Maple Street and was concerned that fire apparatus had a difficult time accessing the fire scene due to a commercial truck being parked on the street.
“I watched the house fire and saw five fire trucks which responded and one of the trucks was able to get to the fire. I understand that the fire company said it only needed that one truck. However, a dump truck was parked across the street in front of the house. I saw what I felt was a dangerous situation if more fire apparatus was needed,” she said.
Cassidy said she spoke to town staff on three occasions to find out about whether the commercial trucks were allowed by code to park on the residential streets. “I went to the Town Manager, the Police Chief and the Code department; it was like a merry go round trying to get an answer. Each person told me that someone else could address the question. I was not trying to criticize or make a problem. While I understand that the police department cannot enforce every law, and some of these laws have been on the books since the 1800s, I just feel that as someone who loves this town, I want to be able to help get involved and find ways to make it better. That’s why I am here,” she said.
Smith said she would continue to work with the appropriate town staff and the town’s attorney to come back to the Mayor and Council with a recommendation regarding the truck-parking ordinance in the next few weeks.