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Duluth to step up front-yard parking enforcement

Four cars are parked in the front of a home on Woodland Avenue Wednesday afternoon. The city is threatening to crackdown on vehicles parked in front yards. Bob King /rking@duluthnews.com1 / 2
Cars are parked in the front yard of a home along Woodland Avenue near across from the BlueStone development Wednesday. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com2 / 2

Beginning Saturday, the city of Duluth will begin ticketing vehicles parked in the front yards of homes surrounding the campuses of the University of Minnesota Duluth and St. Scholastica College, and the prospect of accompanying fines has stirred concern amidst local landlords and renters alike.

Citing the large number of complaints they have received, Duluth city officials sent out a letter identifying property owners of stepped up enforcement efforts in the following areas:

  • Woodland Avenue from East Fourth Street to Oxford Street
  • West College Street
  • West Arrowhead Road from Woodland Avenue to Rice Lake Road

"The rationale behind the stepped up enforcement is to address concerns both about the perceived blight issue with people parking on front lawns, destroying grass, and also more importantly there's the safety factor. We are talking about emergency crews that need to get to a property to help in the event of a medical emergency or a fire," said Mark Bauer, a parking operations specialist for the city of Duluth.

He explained that vehicles parked in front of homes could obstruct access for crews responding to a fire or a medical emergency.

A letter sent out to property owners on Aug. 29 provided notice of a crackdown slated to begin this Saturday. But the city has since softened its stance a bit.

It now intends to initially issue warnings to owners of improperly parked cars. But any repeat violation would result in a $24 ticket.

Landlords who allow tenants to park in their front yards will face a steeper $200 administrative citation. But the city has agreed to hold off on those fines against property owners until April 1, to allow time for landlords to bring their tenants into compliance.

Mike Purtell, a UMD student and vice president of external affairs for the school's student association, addressed the Duluth City Council earlier this week, asking city officials to give student renters more time, as well.

"A lot of students don't know what's going on. And a lot of students are confused about what the policy is or what the infractions are," he said. "The students have a lot of questions regarding how this enforcement will take place."

Bauer said parking is allowed on driveways and approved hard surfaces in adjacent sideyards. However, the city forbids parking between the front of a dwelling's living quarters and the street.

Purtell explained that most student renters in the affected area were never informed that front-yard parking spaces made available to them by local landlords were out of compliance with the city code.

"We're not only upset about a $24 ticket. We're upset about being misled," he said.

Purtell has asked the city to delay enforcement of the front-yard parking restrictions until June 1, when most student leases expire. He said students are organizing a petition drive to demonstrate widespread support on campus for the idea.

Joel Sipress, who represents the affected campus neighborhoods on the Duluth City Council, said he'd like the city to hold off on any fines related for front-yard parking at least until November, so as to allow for more consideration about how best to handle the issue.

"I think that we've learned some very important things about what's going on and what's causing the problem and potential solutions that we need to factor in before we start citing people," he said.

Sipress expressed sympathy for the plight of renters caught unaware.

"I think we have situations where people rented homes with a certain number of tenants and a certain number of cars, where there's no on-street parking, thinking they could park there (in front-yard spots) and now suddenly discovering they can't, and that puts some of these tenants in a huge bind, and it's not really their fault, because they did not have full disclosure of what they were actually renting when they signed their leases," he said.

Sipress suggested it might make sense for the city to require local landlords to disclose exactly how many off-street parking spaces are available on their property as part of future lease agreements.

Although Sipress expressed concern about exactly how the pending crackdown on front-yard parking could play out, he expressed support for efforts to enforce the city ordinance now on the books.

"Front-yard parking has been something that we get a lot of complaints about from neighborhoods, and I think they're legitimate complaints because I think a pattern of widespread front-yard parking does have a negative effect on a neighborhood. There's a reason why it's not legal." said Sipress, noting that it can drive down property values.

Purtell said he understands the concern but said many student renters have been caught in the middle through no fault of their own.

"We're not saying that this isn't an issue. We're just saying: Don't take it out on the students," he said.

Although Duluth's front-yard parking ordinance has been enforced somewhat sporadically in recent years — mostly in response to complaints — citations are nothing new. In 2015, the city issued 57 citations (accompanied by a mix of fines and warnings) to the owners of improperly parked cars, said Matthew Kennedy, Duluth's parking manager.

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