Cars on the lawn? That’s now a no-no in Covington

Covington City Council votes to approve a max number of vehicles, parking laws in residential zones

Imagine being the catalyst to a change in city law because of the amount of cars you own. That’s what happened to one unnamed Covington resident who spurred the city to expand on a residential vehicle max into all residential zones.

According to the city’s planning department, one private residence generated a number of complaints because it had 18 vehicles parked all over the property. None of the vehicles fell under the definition of “nuisance” vehicle, which is regulated by the city. Because of this, the city realized it had no path forward to fixing the issue for neighboring residences.

This led the city to look at its “vehicle max” regulation, which only affected a certain number of residential zones, leaving hundreds of homes free to collect a large number of cars, boats and RVs.

Council passed an expansion of ordinance No. 18.50.110 “relating to off-street parking,” to place a max number of parked vehicles on all residential zones within city limits during the regular council meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 10.

“The need for the proposed amendments began as staff discovered the parking requirements were not consistent with all single-family properties in the city,” Covington Senior Planner Brian Bykonen told the council. “Currently maximum number of vehicles parked on a property requirements are only applicable to the R-4, R-6 and R-8 zones. There are no maximum parking requirements for the R-1, R-12, R-18 and MR zones. There is also no maximum parking requirements for roughly 200 properties that are still single-family uses that have been rezoned as commercial, which the city has a fair amount. The new regulations will cover all single-family properties regardless of zones.”

The max allows up to six vehicles at a single-family resident, unless the residence is over 12,500 square feet, then eight vehicles are allowed. Cars and vehicles parked in garages and car ports will not be counted towards the max. If a property also has an attached dwelling unit, referred to as an ADU, then the residence can have up to one additional vehicle.

One of the biggest changes to the ordinance includes language that includes boats and RVs under the definition of vehicle. It also requires all vehicles be parked on “impervious surfaces” meaning concrete, gravel or asphalt instead of undeveloped lots or grass.

During Tuesday’s meeting, the council chose to hold an additional public comment portion of the hearing. Three Covington residents all spoke against the changes to the ordinance.

“I have three children,” Covington resident Pete Steverson said. “I had a car, the wife has a car and all my children had cars until they went to college. I don’t have a garage or carport and could not afford to build one. For a family of five it is easy to go up in numbers.”

“Is this a problem?” Covington resident, Leroy Stevenson, said. “Is there a huge number of violations? Is it necessary? I have a friend who is paralyzed and he works on cars, would this take away his chance?”

Mayor Pro Temp Sean Smith also questioned if the issue of too many parked vehicles was an issue in the city.

“Vehicle parking is by far the biggest generator of complaints we have in the city,” Bykonen said. “Especially now that we have Covington connects, we have more complaints both about private properties and about the public right away.”

Smith then questioned whether the issue was purely about aesthetics. Bykonen said while aesthetics played the biggest part in the ordinance, other issues included environmental hazards from cars parked on the grass or leaking into local drains, and safety issues when drivers’ views are blocked by cars parked near corners.

Councilmember Joseph Cimaomo questioned if the regulation would only be enforced on cars parked long-term, or if it would regulate cars temporarily parked.

“My neighbors know that each year we have a large Fourth of July party,” Cimaomo said. “And we can have up to 20 cars parked on or near my property. Sometimes guests spend the night. Will we be coded for this?”

Bykonen said the city is not in the habit of sending out code enforcement officers to find these issues, but will regulate based off residents’ complaints. So if cars are parked at a property temporarily it will likely not cause a code enforcement issue.

Mayor Jeff Wagner and the rest of the council agreed the city should have ordinances that are equally, and fairly, applied to all residents while also working to keep the city’s streets looking pleasant. The council voted 6-1 to approve the expansion of the ordinance.

A previous version of this story stated an incorrect vote count on the proposal. The council voted 6-1 to pass the proposed ordinance change.