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Overlay districts could ease parking conflicts

A Times Editorial
Published May 26, 2005

As population densities in Pinellas County increase, more conflicts are arising among people who live here. Lacking elbow room, we find more that is irritating about those with whom we share streets and neighborhoods.

In that environment, one-size-fits-all ordinances don't always work. Two local governments recently have been talking about right-sizing some codes to fit the needs of a single neighborhood, for example, rather than an entire town.

Pinellas County officials had heard residents of the unincorporated area complain that neighbors were parking boats, trailers and RVs on their front lawns and every which way on narrow neighborhood streets. This bothered residents who wanted their neighborhoods to look less junky and felt their property values were hurt by all the vehicle clutter.

So officials began considering a countywide ordinance to regulate parking of large vehicles in front of homes. They thought they were doing a good thing.

However, many residents of unincorporated Pinellas appeared outraged by the idea. In public meetings held in March, they told county officials they chose to live in unincorporated areas precisely so they would not face so many regulations on the use of their private property. Seventy-six percent of those polled at the meetings said they opposed any further regulation of parking on residential lots.

However, 21 percent said there was a need for more regulation.

Seeing those numbers, county commissioners backed away from any countywide code that would make people find some other place to park their vehicles. However, with that 21 percent in mind, county officials are studying an approach that would allow individual neighborhoods to have parking rules that are different from the rest of the county.

The approach would be to create community overlay districts - districts where an additional set of rules would "overlay" the rules that apply to everyone. Residents of those areas could decide "We want the rules to be different here," and the county would create the necessary legal framework to make it so.

Community overlay districts are not new. Clearwater, for example, has used them, most recently in the Island Estates area where residents wanted to preserve the neighborhood's appearance in the face of construction and massive renovations. While the overlay district approach can still leave some people unhappy, it is at least democratic.

The County Commission will have more discussions on the idea next month.

In the second example, a few Oldsmar neighborhoods were complaining to city officials that speeders have turned their residential streets into raceways. They wanted the city to fix the problem, but the city found it did not have an ideal mechanism to do that. City Council members could order the city staff to run around lowering residential speed limits and installing speed humps, but that would impact neighborhoods that had no complaints.

Instead Oldsmar has created the Neighborhood Traffic Calming Program, which allows individual neighborhoods to apply for traffic-calming devices if at least half their households want them. Fifty percent of the households on each block that would be affected by the devices must sign a petition requesting them, then residents apply to the city's Public Works Department. Only then does the city staff study the traffic conditions in the neighborhood to determine whether dangerous conditions exist.

If the study determines there are conditions that need to be addressed with traffic-calming devices, a city staff committee decides which devices to recommend. A public hearing is held, and the residents get to vote a final time on whether the devices should be installed after City Council approval.

These individualized approaches are a lot of work for local governments, but they may be the best answer for those neighborhoods that need a little help staving off the negative impacts of growth and change.

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