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Warning tickets for front-yard parking are landing in Duluth

Four cars are parked in the front of a home on Woodland Avenue in 2016. The city is going to crack down on vehicles parked in front yards. File / News Tribune

Have any cars parked on your front lawn? Expect a ticket.

Duluth city parking enforcement began last month handing out warnings to front yard parking offenders.

The first round of fine-free ticketing is meant to educate — and spur property owners to remedy illegal parking situations. But after one warning, the parker gets a $24 ticket, and the property owner, who could also be the parker, is slapped with a $200 citation.

The idea is to formalize parking spaces, said Adam Fulton, manager of the city's community planning division.

"We have a front yard parking problem generally, and one that is perceived to get worse when (college) students are present," he said, noting that some city neighborhoods just don't have much room to park on the street, students in town or not.

Property owners can apply for a variance to park in yards or for permission to park on the street, and will not be ticketed during that process. While it has been illegal to park in front yards for years, it hasn't been consistently enforced.

Enforcement began this summer following City Council-approved changes to the ordinance in May. The council decided last fall to hold off on the issue to allow time to educate city property and homeowners and renters, and to let student rental leases run their course. A University of Minnesota Duluth Student Association member told the council last fall that many students were never informed by their landlords about the parking ordinance, something Fulton said also has been expressed by renters to city employees.

The city sent targeted mailings — the areas surrounding UMD and the College of St. Scholastica, for example — and met with the Duluth Landlord Association during the past several months. Barbara Montee, president of that association, said she and other landlords appreciate being included in talks and hope the discussion with the city continues. The most controversy around the issue is where parking on the street isn't allowed, like Woodland Avenue and Arrowhead Road, she said, where front yards are often used for car overflow. Adding back some street parking could be a solution in those areas, she said, since the speed limit is low.

Since the city started mid-July, about 20 warnings have been given out, said Keith Hamre, director of planning and construction services.

Enforcement of the ordinance is important because Duluth has many single family neighborhoods built to house one or two cars per property, said City Council member Noah Hobbs. And with college students and some other non-traditional living situations, there might be several cars parked on a front lawn at one time, he said.

"It's good to mitigate that, and maintain some of the integrity of single-family neighborhoods," Hobbs said.

When people can park in back or on driveways, "that's what we want them to do," said councilor Gary Anderson. "We want to live in neighborhoods we are proud of."

Who qualifies for an exception?

The requirements for a variance to park on a front lawn are many. If the position of the home doesn't allow access to the side or rear yard, with no improved alley or street allowing access to either and no allowed overnight parking on any street within 150 feet of the home, a property owner should qualify. There also should be a distance of more than 18 feet between the home and the public right of way.

The property owner also needs to do a few things, including: ensure there is a paved walkway at least three feet wide that links the home and the street; install a wall, fence or dense vegetation at least three feet tall to hide parked vehicles from view of nearby properties and the street, (where screening the street view is possible); install barriers to prevent vehicles from overrunning the parking and driveway areas; and display an "all-weather" sign on the front exterior door that indicates the parking arrangement.

A "concurrent use" permit for parking on the street may be given if overnight on-street parking isn't allowed in front of the property and the distance between the home and the street is 18 feet or less, with no access to the side or rear yard. There are several other stipulations.

Hamre said that despite the requirements, he expected that "a number of folks" will be qualified for variances and permits.

Montee said she understands that codes need to be followed, "but the variances are really difficult to meet," with a "complex" procedure to obtain one.

"I have some hope we will continue to brainstorm and come up with alternative ways of viewing what is sightly and unsightly," she said. "Every human being wants easy access to their vehicle."