Newton prohibits parking on front lawns

Residential front lawns in Newton are now "no parking" zones.

Newton City Council approved a measure that prohibits the parking of cars and trucks, recreational vehicles and boats in the front yards of residential dwellings. The change in city ordinance comes about two years after city leaders began considering action to curb the practice of parking vehicles in front yards throughout the city.

"In the front yard, all vehicles must be in a designated parking area," Newton Assistant Planning Director Alex Fulbright said, adding that the vehicles can be parked in a front yard on areas that are "improved by gravel, paving or concrete."

There are limits on that improved space, too. No more than 30 percent of the front yard can be turned into parking areas with pavement, asphalt or gravel, he said.

Parking or driveway areas also must not be wider than 20 feet, according to the approved ordinance change.

"It is not an issue of whether you have a driveway that is 20 feet or 18 feet (wide). It is whether you have four or five cars parked in your front yard, or an RV parked in your front yard that we are trying to deal with," said Newton Mayor Robert Mullinax.

Enforcement of the new ordinance would be complain-driven.

"Most of this is enforced if (the planning department) gets a complain from citizens," said Council member Mary Bess Lawing. "If they have a recreational vehicle in a front yard, then you go and investigate if you get a complaint."

Fulbright said that once a code enforcement complaint is received and a violation is identified, the city will send a letter of notification to the property owner. He said the city's planning department aims to open a dialogue with the property owner in an effort to bring their infraction into compliance.

"If they don't come into compliance, the City Council can approve an injunction — a court order saying they have to fix the situation," he said, adding the city's attorney then has the power to pursue that injunction. "We are just after compliance. Ninety-nine percent of the people do comply."

In addition to prohibiting vehicle, camper and boat parking on residential front lawns, the ordinance unanimously approved Tuesday, also specifies where recreational vehicles can be parked.

Under the amended ordinance, recreational vehicles may be parked in rear or side yards, as long as they are five feet from rear and side property lines. Those vehicles may also be parked on vacant lots adjacent to a property with a home, but the parking place must comply with setback requirements. A property owner can only park two types of recreational vehicles on a residential property.

Recreational vehicles can be parked in a garage or building structure — wherever the garage is located — as long is the vehicle is completely enclosed, Fulbright said.

When recreational vehicles can be parked in front and side yards or adjoining vacant lots, they must comply with other rules, Fulbright said. Among those, the vehicle must be "ready for highway use, in operable condition and display current registration," he said.

Recreational vehicles parked on residential properties also can not be used for "living, sleeping or housekeeping purposes," and those vehicles can not be hooked up to any utility service while parked on a residential property.