New boat, RV parking plans worry residents

The county considers tougher codes and enforcement in unincorporated areas, with limits on size, number of vehicles and where they can be parked.

Published February 13, 2005

John Thurmond is not happy and he hasn't been for about a month.

That's about how long it's been since the Ozona resident learned about a Pinellas County Commission plan to adopt tougher code enforcement ordinances. Ever since, he's been trying to figure out what to do with his 20-foot boat.

"If this ordinance were to go through, I'd have to put concrete or asphalt alongside my lawn," Thurmond said. "I'm pretty upset."

So are a lot of boat, trailer and RV owners who live in unincorporated areas such as Ozona, Palm Harbor and Crystal Beach. That's because one of several proposed changes to the county code includes new parking rules that would put a 38-foot limit on the size of RVs or boats parked on residential property. The new rules also would restrict lawn parking to one space parallel to the driveway. There would be no RV or boat parking allowed on the road or road shoulder.

But Thurmond and many other boat and RV owners have complained to the county that the rule is unfair because there's not enough room to accommodate the code change. Many roads in the northern part of the county's unincorporated areas are narrow, making lawn parking a necessity for traffic to get through.

"There would be some real hardships on people," said County Commissioner Susan Latvala. "I've had about a thousand calls on this."

The onslaught of calls was enough to prompt Latvala to ask her fellow commissioners last month to hold off on a making a decision. She and other commissioners agreed then to sound out the public on the issue before voting on a change.

Last week, the county announced it will hold three public meetings in March to discuss the proposed yard parking ordinance. Current county code prohibits parking RVs, boats or other vehicles longer than 35 feet on lawns in unincorporated residential zones. Residents are free to park vehicles under 35 feet on their front, side or rear yards.

Residents are invited to offer their suggestions at the public meetings on whether the county should keep the current code, adopt the new proposed code, adopt a stricter code or make residential parking rules in unincorporated areas less restrictive.

County officials said last week that they're still researching how many boat, RV and trailer owners might be affected by the proposed change. About 300,000 people live in unincorporated areas of the county, officials said.

Thurmond, a 46-year-old lawn care worker who has lived in Ozona for five years, said the county's current codes are part of what he likes about living in his neighborhood. He hopes he and others can convince county commissioners that the ordinance should stay the way it is.

"Code enforcement is doing a great job with the way everything is set up right now," Thurmond said. "They've got teeth, believe me. They don't need fangs."

County Commission Chairman John Morroni agrees - up to a point. Existing ordinances are tough enough, but the county needs to do a better job of enforcing them and should consider making fines higher for code violators, he said. Morroni worries that a stricter ordinance might unfairly penalize boat owners who comply with current codes. The proposed change could prove especially daunting for residents since boat storage units are scarce and expensive throughout the county, he added.

"They can't afford having their boats in high and dry storage. That's why they moved to the county," Morroni said. "When there's been proposals for high and drys to go up in the county people don't want them in their neighborhoods either."

Three separate meetings will be held in Palm Harbor, Seminole and St. Petersburg next month. The County Commission is expected to vote on the issue during its next regular meeting after the public discussion sessions in early March.

Candace Rondeaux can be reached at 727 771-4307 or rondeaux@sptimes.com


Pinellas County will hold three public meetings in March to discuss a proposed lawn parking ordinance:

March 2 at Palm Harbor University High School in the cafeteria, 1900 Omaha St., Palm Harbor.

March 3 at Osceola High School in the cafeteria, 9751 98th St. N, Seminole.

March 10 at Dixie Hollins High School in the cafeteria, 4940 62nd St. N, St. Petersburg.

All meetings will run from 5 to 8 p.m. For information, call 727 464-4600 or visit www.pinellascounty.org/commission/notice.htm