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Parking an issue in Salem

SALEM — When is a driveway no longer a driveway and why can’t a resident still park there if there’s no longer a garage and no street parking available?

Those are some of the questions the Rules and Ordinances Committee grappled with Wednesday night in a discussion about residential parking.

No decisions were made, but the committee plans to reconvene on the issue at 6 p.m. April 14 after researching how many neighborhoods in the city may be affected by any action.

Councilwoman Cyndi Baronzzi Dickey, who chairs the committee, said the issue came up after someone complained about a building project on Southeast Boulevard. When the zoning officer checked the residence, he found that the homeowner was enclosing the garage to create additional living space in the house and never got a permit.

If he had, the zoning officer would have told him he would no longer be permitted to park on what had been his driveway because the city ordinance doesn’t allow front yard parking except in the case of a driveway leading to a front-facing garage or in the back.

“Now it’s an illegal parking area,” Dickey said about the driveway.

As a result, the project started by Clifford Price at 1834 Southeast Boulevard is at a standstill, plus Dickey said two other properties were found on Southeast where the owners did something similar and now don’t have a legal parking space.

There’s no street parking allowed on Southeast Boulevard.

Dickey said the zoning officer was absolutely within the city’s laws and even if Price appealed his ruling, the Board of Zoning Appeals would have to follow the laws as written.

“I believe we should grandfather in existing driveways,” she said.

A phrase could be added to the ordinance that prohibits parking in the front when there’s no garage, establishing existing driveways as an exemption. Dickey said she sees no difference in Price parking on the driveway when there was a garage to parking there now.

Councilman Jake Gano asked what constitutes a garage and whether a car port or something similar would suffice. She said that doesn’t solve the problem.

Councilman Andrew Null commented that if the homeowner had gone to the zoning department, this would have been a non-issue. At some point, he said “we really do have to draw a line in the sand.”

There was also discussion about the effect not having a garage could have on property values and the ability to resell a property. Dickey said part of the reason they restricted parking in front yards was to try to prevent someone from making their front yard into a parking lot, which can hurt the area aesthetics.

Dickey said she favors grandfathering existing driveways, not allowing for new driveways or parking areas. Many homes along Southeast Boulevard are small ranches with single car garages and short driveways.

Gano also played devil’s advocate and said it’s kind of like buying a house at the end of a runway at O’Hare Airport and complaining about the planes flying overhead. Sometimes if a person outgrows a house, it’s time to move. Dickey pointed out that parking used to be allowed on part of Southeast Boulevard and the no parking happened in recent years.

Null said it’s probably just an oversight by the homeowner to not get a permit, but people need to think before they do some of these projects.

Gano also suggested if a parking space is going to be allowed, perhaps there should be a sidewalk leading to the front door. That prompted Null to question whether they’re going to force people to put in a sidewalk.

Dickey said she wants to make sure they’re not hindering people from improving their properties.

While the issue is being debated, city Service/Safety Director Joe Cappuzzello said he’ll talk to the zoning officer about holding off on citations.

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