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Every minute counts

A growing number of residents are ordering signs that post city limits on how long outsiders can park in scarce street spots.

By TOM ZUCCO
Published June 4, 2004

photo
[Times photos: Chris Zuppa]
Jerry Donohoe, at his home on South Orleans Avenue, is among the many residents putting up signs, backed by a city ordinance dating to 1953, to keep people from taking spots in front of their homes.

It is unlawful for any person to stop, stand, or park a vehicle, whether occupied or not, for more than five (5) minutes on the street, or on the public right-of-way adjacent to the street, directly in front of or immediately adjacent to the front entrance to any single-family detached dwelling, without the expressed or implied consent of the owner or occupant of such dwelling.

- Tampa city ordinance Sec. 15-43

SOUTH TAMPA - Five minutes. About the time it takes to sit back and enjoy a cup of coffee.

But sip that coffee while parked in front of a home with a little black-and-white sign planted in the front yard, and you could risk a $30 citation.

The city of Tampa allows residents to place five-minute parking signs in front of their homes to ensure they, but no one else, can park there for an extended period of time. The ordinance, which dates to at least 1953, was designed for homeowners who have limited or no parking at their houses, making the street the only place they can park.

Applications for five-minute parking signs have been increasing steadily, say city and neighborhood association officials, and could be a sign of a much larger problem. Parking has become a serious issue in many South Tampa neighborhoods, especially those where residential and commercial areas collide.

If nothing else, the signs are a quick fix. Anyone who owns a single-family home can request one. Each sign protects one space 22 feet long in front of a home.

The city sends homeowners the specifications for the signs (18-by-18inches with black lettering on a white background), and it's up to the owner to buy a sign and poke it in the ground. A few people make their own signs, but most go to a sign company.

Since the homeowner owns the sign, it can't be placed on city property, which includes the space between the sidewalk and the street. So the signs have to be set behind the property line.

Now comes the enforcement part.

If a resident notices a stranger has parked in his spot longer than five minutes, he can call Tampa police. An officer will come to the house, wait another five minutes to confirm the violation, and then ticket the vehicle.

"Two things to remember," said Tampa Police spokesman Joe Durkin. "It's on the books as a law. And it's there for a reason that's tied into the department's focus on the quality of life in the neighborhoods."

The city says it doesn't keep track of how many five-minute violations it issues or how many signs it approves, but most agree the signs are more popular than ever.

"We get more and more calls (for the signs) every year," said city traffic engineer Debbie Herrington. "I actually recommend them because some people want a permanent no parking sign. That means they'll never be able to park in front of their house. So we ask them to try this first.

"Typically, when they install the five-minute signs, it does seem to solve the problem."

Signs are needed because parking often overflows from businesses to residential areas, she said. In places such as Hyde Park, dozens of remodeled older homes, apartment buildings and townhomes with limited off-street parking compete with neighborhood restaurants and businesses.

Prime sign territory.

"People will park all day long, even overnight," said Laura Diehl, who lives with her husband, Tim, in a restored home on Rome Avenue. "We have no access behind the house, and there's no parking at all on the other side of the street, so on weekends and when there are events like Gasparilla, the streets are filled."

Most streets in the neighborhood have a few signs posted in front yards. In the 700 block of Orleans Avenue, between Swann and Inman avenues, five of the 11 homes have them.

"I think I've called (the police) about a half-dozen times in the five years I've lived here," said Lauren Guerette, who lives on the block. "Usually the sign works."

Still, five-minute parking signs can't address the larger issue of how growing neighborhoods deal with parking constraints.

To address the problem, Jeanne Holton Carufel, president of the Historic Hyde Park Neighborhood Association, is forming a parking task force of residents and city officials.

The first order of business: develop a consistent plan to use parking efficiently. "As new development comes on line, the city needs to recognize that maybe the present system isn't adequate," she said.

To Carufel, there are two main problems in Hyde Park. Many of the older homes have narrow, so-called "ribbon" driveways. The homes were built at a time when cars were smaller and families shared one vehicle. And many of the garages were built for one car.

Today most families have two cars, or even three, if they have teenagers.

The second problem, Carufel said, is that the more established commercial establishments don't have adequate parking.

Complicating matters is the fact that many houses have been converted to businesses, which merit more parking. The city changed the zoning for the building but not the parking, she said.

In other cases, single-family homes built in the 1970s and '80s were turned into two-, three- or even four-unit apartments.

"We have a patchwork quilt parking situation instead of a cohesive plan," Carufel said.

"I think it's time to look at it and see if we can come up with a plan more accommodating and address the reality of the situation."

For now, the signs will have to do.

"I bought the house in 1990 and I've never had to call the police," said Jerry Donohoe, 60, one of the homeowners along Orleans who has a sign in yard.

But if he took it down, would people hog his spot?

"Oh, yeah."

- Tom Zucco can be reached at 226-3405 or zucco@sptimes.com

[Last modified June 3, 2004, 10:50:24]

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