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Monday, October 7, 2013

In case you missed it: Tonight, Council looks at ban on parking of camping, work vehicles at homes

A closer look at proposed restrictions for businesses and homes
By Will Collette

In yesterday's article, I detailed the first of two controversial proposed ordinances that the Charlestown Town Council will consider at its October 7 meeting. Click here to read the earlier article on proposed new shrubbery requirements.

These proposals are controversial because the brunt of the compliance costs will fall on Charlestown’s ever dwindling small business community, although a number of homeowners will be surprised to learn that they, too, could get hammered by this ordinance. See sections 218-59 & 60, below.

In addition to the serious flaws in the ordinances, Planning Commissar Ruth Platner and Town Council Boss Tom Gentz tried to ram these ordinances through at the September meeting by withholding information, curtailing debate and cutting out the business community. Their own colleagues turned down Boss Gentz’s attempt to force a vote, pushing the issue back to this meeting.

When Ordinance #360 was originally advertised for the September meeting, the town deceptively presented the ordinance without following the usual format of crossing out existing language that is changed or taken out and highlighting new language to be inserted. 

In the latest version, you can now see those changes in color coding. Click here to read the color-coded version which appears after the version that was advertised - so make sure you go all the way to the end.

Obviously, you will want to read the entire ordinance for yourself. For your convenience, I’ve gone through the ordinance and give you the following section-by-section commentary. Where I’ve used the actual language of the ordinance, you’ll see those passages set off in quotation marks.


§ 218-56 Required Parking. This new version of the ordinance retains the original language of the current ordinance that “grandfathers” businesses and subdivisions that make changes to the property that do not “change of use in the parking and/or location requirements.” If that’s the case, whatever parking rules applied before, continue to apply. I point this out because the sister ordinance, #359, triggers new landscaping obligations on a property owner anytime the owner does any kind of work on the property that requires a building permit.

Happily, this ordinance does not have that fatal flaw. However, it does have its own wheelbarrow full of problems.

§ 218-57 A. and B. You will not have to count any handicapped parking spaces against your limit on parking spaces. This provision, as well as B. were presented as if they were major concessions. But handicapped parking is required under the Americans with Disabilities Act, so Ruth Platner is not doing anyone any favors that are not otherwise required by federal law. Under subsection B., there may be other times when an owner needs more parking than allowed under the ordinance due to some special circumstances. It will be the owner’s obligation to prove that need before being allowed to create additional parking spaces.

Here are the new requirements and limits on parking:

§ 218-57 C. If you have a right to parking spaces, but it doesn’t fit one of the categories in the table, the Town Building Official (the consultant for Planning called him “Inspector”) will try to make the best match with the table or will try to see if there’s a close match in the parking standards of the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE).
I think the Planning Commission is afraid that without this ordinance, our community turn into something like Russia. Check out the video.

§ 218-57 D. If there’s a parking lot serving more than one business, the total number of allowable spaces will be the number you get when you add up the spaces for each individual business, rounding down the fractions. There are a few more factors in this section that, frankly, gave me a headache but left me with a sense of gratitude that I don’t run a small business in Charlestown.

§ 218-57 E. “Up to 50 percent of on-site off-street shared parking requirements may be provided off-site provided that parking is located within 400 feet of the property boundary in a walkable route from one property boundary to another and safe, if applicable, well lighted pedestrian access can be demonstrated by the applicant.” I used the exact language just to give you a taste of the way this ordinance is written. Since the purpose of this ordinance is to clamp down on parking, I don’t see the point of this section, other than to say that if you don’t have enough parking, make your customers park on the street or somewhere else, but be safe, y’all.

§ 218-58 Standards for parking lots: “Off-street parking lots of more than two motor vehicles capacity shall conform to the following standards of construction:”

Those bumper guards really did a great job
§ 218-58 A. Dust-free. Hard surface. Bumper guards. 

It also looks like the Planning Commission wants to take over the traffic duties of the Police Department by warning, “Vehicles shall not extend over property lines, pedestrian areas or bump any wall or landscaping.” 

What the hell is that doing in the town zoning ordinance? Why not require the parking lot owner to equip the trees with an automatic alarm to notify police if somebody hits them? Is our town's zoning officer, Joe Warner, going to enforce this prohibition?

§ 218-58 B. If the lot is next to a residential area, add a 15 foot, landscaped setback and go and read Ordinance #359 on Shrubbery and throw up in the nearest toilet.

§ 218-58 C. This is about permissible lighting. Go read the lighting ordinance.

§ 218-58 D. If you have 10 or more spaces for cars, you must also provide for parking for bikes – one per every ten cars – with lighting (but in conformity with the lighting ordinance) and either a rack or locker.

§ 218-58 E. “On any business or industrial use, parking shall not be permitted within any front yard or required buffer.” Maybe I’m reading this wrong, but I think this would outlaw parking in front of almost every business on Old Post Road and Route One if those businesses decide to do anything that triggers this ordinance. Also the Gentleman Farmer, Atlantic Animal Hospital, street-side parking at Arrowhead Dental, the Gun Shop and so on. Drive around town and count up how many businesses this would affect.

§ 218-58 F. Parking plans must be submitted either during development plan review or at the time of a building permit application.

§ 218-58 G. and I. Each parking space must be at least nine feet by eighteen feet. Aisles must be at least ten feet wide. Circulation areas must permit vehicles to move without killing somebody or hitting other cars (duh). You can create angular parking spaces as long as you maintain the minimum spacing.

§ 218-58 H. Circulation areas shall be designed so that vehicles can proceed safely without danger to pedestrians, other vehicles and without interfering with other parking spaces.

§ 218-58 I. Landscaping Standards – again, go read the Shrubbery Ordinance because it also applies to parking lots. In addition, you must have landscaping that covers at least 10% of the amount of space you use for parking, driveways, borders, walkways, travel lanes, etc. If you have 2000 square feet of parking, walkways, etc., you must also have 200 square feet of landscaping done strictly under the terms of the new Shrubbery Ordinance.

At the end of every double row of parking spaces, you must have a landscaped island that’s at least 10 feet wide and on and on and on in torturous detail. There’s stuff about shade trees and how high they must be and how far apart, reflectors, perforated curbing, etc. After you read the total language in just this one section, you’ll probably want to forget about parking altogether, which is probably the point of this ordinance.

Provisions that affect homeowners

The penalty for parking one too many "major recreational equipment"
vehicles at your home
§ 218-59 Don’t park commercial vehicles at home. You may not park commercial vehicles with more than 1.5 ton (3,000 pounds) capacity in any residential district. So all you long-haul truckers, school bus drivers, construction contractors and others who actually work for a living, you may no longer park your vehicles at home or in your neighborhoods.

§ 218-60 Don’t park these at home either. If you want to keep a pick-up camper, RV, tent trailer, boat or boat trailer or similar “Major Recreation Equipment” at home or in your neighborhood, you must NOT live in it, sleep in it or use it for “housekeeping purposes” whatever that means. 

You can’t leave it in the front yard, period. It must be in working condition (hint: putting it up on cinder blocks might be a giveaway). This might also be targeted at the old Army ambulance at Dave’s Coffee – long a source of anger and frustration for the plucky Planning Commissioners.

One new and special feature in this ordinance: you can only have two pieces of “major recreation equipment” on your property so if you have a pick-up camper, boat and a boat trailer, you are one item over the line, unless they cut you some slack and count the boat and trailer as one.

§ 218-61 If you have a business, you will need to show how you will handle off-street loading and unloading in your building plans. There’s a funny glitch in the draft where it talks about added restrictions if the loading area is next to a residential area. You’re supposed to look for these added restrictions in some other document except all it says is “Error! Reference source not found., Error! Reference source not found.” I thought that was an interesting and appropriate way for the proposed ordinance to end, though they will probably fix this glitch as soon as they read this article.

When Beth Richardson spoke against this ordinance at the September 9 Council meeting, she commented on several of the provisions of this ordinance and called them micro-managing, but more than that, an expression by the town that it has no respect for anyone’s basic common sense or even their self-interest.

While it is certainly possible for a local business here or there to do something crude and obnoxious, the Planning Commission approach is to try to impose its will on every tiny detail on every business, and in some parts of this ordinance, on every household in town.

I don’t share Beth’s Libertarian beliefs, but ordinances like this, and its companion Ordinance 359 on Shrubbery, are terrible ways to build a community. When I was in grade school with the Sisters of St. Joseph at Sacred Heart School in Pawtucket, I hated the way the nuns would punish an entire class for the sins of one pupil. Here we have the logical extension of that principle of collective guilt.