As a peninsula on a peninsula, St. Petersburg offers a wealth of outdoor activities; however, many residents lack a permissible place to park their boats, jet skis and RVs.
City Councilmembers discussed loosening recreational vehicle restrictions at the Sept. 14 Public Service and Infrastructure Committee meeting. Joseph Waugh, director of codes compliance, said his department received 983 cases related to domestic equipment this year.
Domestic equipment includes anything designed for recreational activities. The city’s definition also encompasses utility trailers, which council members noted can cause neighborhood blight when loaded with junk.
However, much of the discussion centered on creating watercraft exemptions for those who live on corner lots or lack alley access. The city code stipulates that residents cannot park any domestic equipment in front of their homes and must utilize a six-foot fence or shield in other areas.
“It typically comes down to … the fact that they just don’t have the ability to place it on an interior side yard or the rear yard,” Waugh explained. “Maybe there’s a tree; maybe there’s just not enough width.”
He added that people often purchase a boat, RV or trailer without realizing that parking in front of their home is a code violation. Waugh said his department then issues a notice, and the owner must pay to park the equipment offsite.
Fines start at $100 and gradually increase to $500 for each violation. According to the city documents, officials can cite residents “immediately upon observation.”
In addition, “the passenger motor vehicle or domestic commercial equipment shall be permanently removed from the front yard or street side yard within 24 hours of being cited.”
The issue is particularly apparent in Councilmember Richie Floyd’s District 8, which encompasses central St. Petersburg from 5th Ave. to 40th Ave. N. Waugh said he received 312 cases from that area this year.
He noted that just 234 of the 938 total cases came from concerned neighbors. Waugh said most of the complaints come from people with no place to park their equipment.
Floyd said there is no way for him, or his neighbors, to stow a boat in their back yards. He said the problem spans a four or five-block radius in the suburban area.
“I hear the concerns about size – a 24-foot boat is quite large,” Floyd said. “I think we can come to some sort of compromise that allows people to be able to still access water in an affordable way, too, if it’s a small boat.”
The proposed exemption would allow residents to park one piece of domestic equipment in their driveway, provided it does not block any part of the sidewalk or road. It would reduce size limits to 24 feet long and 11 feet high.
The updated code would only apply to corner lots and property without alley access, and recreational vehicles cannot impede driver visibility. “Just like you wouldn’t be able to plant a large hedge in that ‘visibility triangle’ …,” said Assistant City Attorney Heather Judge.
The code amendment would also allow residents to keep utility trailers and other domestic equipment on a paved area to the side of their homes. Those would need a tarp covering when parked in the driveway.
“We live in Florida – you want access to water,” said Council Chair Brandi Gabbard. “You want to be able to enjoy recreation. When you start getting into what looks like work trailers, debris trailers and things like that, I start to have a real issue with those things being allowed to be sitting in front of properties.
“It’s an aesthetic issue.”
Her colleagues agreed. Councilmember Gina Driscoll suggested incorporating a time limit.
She said people who like to store junk in their yard could put it on something they call a utility trailer. A tarp would not mitigate the problem, Driscoll added.
She also noted that not everyone takes care of their boats and said city officials must decide “whether or not we can legislate aesthetics.” Residents currently can park their domestic equipment anywhere on their property for less than four hours between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. from Monday through Thursday.
The city code also allows parking anywhere on private property from 4 p.m. Thursday through 8 a.m. Monday, with no time restrictions. Registered golf carts are currently exempt from those regulations.
“I think we have council members that are definitely amenable to allowing some domestic equipment in the front yards,” said Councilmember Lisset Hanewicz. “But I think we need to work on the size and what types of equipment.”
City attorneys will meet with council members individually to discuss the code amendment’s language regarding domestic equipment and recreational vehicles. They will then present proposed changes at a future PSI Committee meeting.
While the committee failed to reach a consensus on that item, they did approve updating code language to curb the preponderance of camper vans that line public right of ways.