Laurel Mayor and Council have decided to enforce a town ordinance that prohibits the parking of some commercial vehicles along streets in residential areas. The issue came up during a September meeting of council when Town Manager Jamie Smith presented information seeking the town’s direction addressing whether to enforce, amend, or selectively ignore, a town ordinance pertaining to commercial truck parking on residential streets.
The ordinance prohibits “motor vehicles” including mobile home, 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, semi-trailers, truck tractors and farm tractors, to park in a residential area for more than a two-hour period.
During the September meeting, Smith said the town had 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 issue came back up during the Monday, Oct. 21, meeting of Mayor and Council and was firmly addressed with a unanimous decision to enforce the town code as written and prohibit the parking of large, commercial vehicles, including travel trailers, dump trucks, school or commercial buses, truck tractors and farm tractors.
Smith said the ordinance that prohibits the parking of these type vehicles on residential streets has been long standing, however, for more than 20 years the ordinance has not been enforced. In discussions with Chief Wright, Smith said there is a need for Mayor and Council to make a decision about whether to enforce the ordinance as written, allow some type of permitted parking on the streets where the vehicle owners reside, or allow fee-based parking for the vehicles in town lots, or other designated areas within the community.
She said if the decision is to prohibit the parking she requests the truck owners be given an opportunity to make other parking arrangements. “I am not talking about a long period of time,” she said. “Maybe no more than two weeks or so.”
Mayor John Shwed was straightforward with his comments about the parking issue making it clear he is adamantly opposed to allowing the vehicles to park on residential streets in violation of the ordinance. “This is not an issue about fire safety. It is not an issue about access. To me it is an issue of what we want our residential neighborhoods to look like, plain and simple,” he said. “Whenever I get into one of these issues relating to aesthetics in the town I consider what I would think if I lived next door to one of these objectionable vehicles.”
Shwed said the town had checked with neighboring municipalities including Seaford, Georgetown and Milford, and none of these communities allowed commercial trucks to park in residential neighborhoods. “Just because we are classified as a low-income community, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have standards regarding how our neighborhoods should look,” he said. “I believe the ordinance as written is correct. I support the ordinance and I think the trucks have to get off the streets. I believe our predecessors who wrote this ordinance had the right intention. I am willing to work with the vehicle owners because I know this has been going on a long time. We need to develop a fair timeline for them to find suitable alternative parking. We are never going to get better if we do not work at it. I think now enforcing this truck parking ordinance would be a step backwards.”
Councilwoman Cheryl Martin agreed with Shwed, saying she sympathizes with those residents who have expressed concerns about the truck parking. “I would not want to come out of my home and see a semi-truck parked in front of my house, especially not on a regular basis, three of four days a week. I would like to see the ordinance stay the way it is,” she said.
Martin disagreed with the idea of allowing trucks to park in the town’s parking lots for a fee. “I do not think we need to allow the town’s properties to become parking lots. There are places in the area where these truck owners can find suitable parking. They will have to pay a fee, but I do not think it should be the town’s responsibility to find them parking,” she said.
Town Manager Jamie Smith was directed to begin working with those vehicle owners who are in violation of the parking ordinance to develop a timeline to find alternative parking before police begin enforcement of the ordinance.
Councilman Jeff Hill warned the council that while truck parking is something that the town can address, he feels there are other issues that affect the quality of the community that should be addressed as well. During the September meeting of Mayor and Council, Hill expressed his concerns about overall quality issues, including vehicles left sitting in a state of disrepair and trash littering properties throughout the community.
At the meeting, he made it clear that some of the issues frustrate him. “There are some issues that we need to deal with in the town,” he said. “All over the town we have vehicles that are parked on the sidewalks. One vehicle that I know about has been parked on the sidewalk for a month with two flat tires. We have people with trash in their yards. We need to come together as a town and do something about the shape this town is in.”
Hill also addressed his concerns about the condition of the Town Hall building where Mayor and Council meets each month. “This building (Town Hall) is in deplorable shape,” he said. “If we don’t soon do something we will be falling through the floor into the basement. I know we are working on Paul Dunbar and I am glad, but we also need to do something about this building.”
During the Sept. 16, council meeting Laurel resident Betty Cassidy expressed concerns about what she deemed safety issues associated with the large trucks parking in residential neighborhoods. 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. She lauded the mayor and Council for supporting the enforcement of the truck-parking ordinance, but expressed agreement with Councilman Hill’s sentiments about other quality of life issues in the community.
“I stand here in respect for Mayor and Council,” she said when addressing the recent meeting. “I appreciate the resolution you have shown to enforce the ordinance regarding the vehicle parking. However, I believe Councilman Hill brings up some important concerns that need to be addressed,” she said.
Cassidy asked if it would be possible to develop a committee that could take some of Hill’s and other town leaders’ ideas and begin to initiate projects to act on helping to clean up the town where it is needed. She cited planting flowers along town streets as an example of the type of things that could be accomplished to help beautify the community.
Shwed said he is not in favor of appointing a committee without a clear objective in mind. He suggested that Cassidy work with Town Manager Smith in developing the objectives of a committee as a starting point.
Cassidy agreed and asked Hill to be a part of the discussions and he agreed to do so.