News

April 7, 2004

Soccer vans will be within the limits of proposed revisions to the county's property-maintenance code, but most campers and some boats probably will not be, and unregistered motor vehicles will be a no-no.

The revisions, which are intended to bring the code up to current national standards, are still in the preliminary stage, but Charles Baker, general manager of the Department of Land Use, unveiled some of the directions they are taking at a meeting of County Council's land use committee.

He promised that the final recommendations, which would have to be voted on by Council, will not be presented in full-blown take-it-or-leave-it fashion. They will be tested before areawide civic associations and in other public venues before they become definitive, he said.

Nevertheless, there is no confidence among Council members that anything resembling a consensus among their constituencies will emerge. On the contrary, whatever comes forth is expected to generate strong feelings, pro and con, on just about every point covered.

"I'm not looking forward to having this conversation with the public," said Council president Christopher Coons.

In his presentation before the committee on Apr. 6, Baker made it obvious that the new regulations are being drawn with very fine lines.

Allowable top weight for vehicles parked in the open on residential property, for instance, will be boosted from the present 5,000 lbs. limit to 7,000 lbs. Department research has determined that that will accommodate the largest suburban utility vans now rolling, but stops short of embracing small dump trucks, generally considered more likely to be objectionable to neighbors, Baker said. Maximum vehicle size would remain at seven feet high, seven feet wide and 20 feet long.

Since most highway trailers and recreational vehicles exceed the limit, they would not be permitted on the property itself, but could be parked on public streets, where parking is permitted, as long as their width does not project into the travel lanes' rights-of-way.

Present thinking is to continue to allow oversize and overweight vehicles to be kept in garages and  structures that have walls and roofs. Open carports and canvass covers are not presently being considered acceptable, but Baker said the question of whether they should be has not been resolved.

A major target of property maintenance regulations has long been derelict vehicles and the department is trying to come up with a way to define which ones are unacceptable and which are 'not quite junk'. Present thinking is to draw the line between those which are currently registered with the state, whether or not they display license tags, and those that are not.

Even if they pass muster that way, they have to be resting on a hardened surface rather than, for instance, grass. Lest owners claim that perching on concrete blocks satisfies that requirement, the regulations are likely to specify that at least front and rear wheel be on the same hardened surface. That would allow parallel paths separated by a grass or dirt median.

'Hardened surface' is to be defined as different from 'paved surface' to prevent the proliferation of extensively widened driveways and other surfaces impervious to water.

Boats will have to be on trailers, which are legally considered vehicles requiring state registration, and will be treated as such. Size and weight restrictions will apply. However, Baker said, hardened 'strips and a dot' will provide for a trailer hitch which includes a wheel. Small boats, such are canoes and kayaks, will not be required to be on trailers or otherwise restricted.

Besides being willing to hear out the public concerning details of the regulations, Baker said a further concession to allowing reasonable current practices to continue will be continuing to follow the department's policy of linking code enforcement to complaints. That, he explained, is not only politick but also practical. "We don't have the staff to be everywhere and [doing anything but] responding to complaints [justifies] enforcing here but not there," he said.

Besides, he added, "our mission is to get [properties] into compliance not penalize violations." Noting that all code enforcement netted only about $300 in fines last year, he said, "It's definitely not a revenue generator."

2004. All rights reserved.

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