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Parking is a privilege, not a right

Note to city officials: If you want to draw a crowd, threaten to take away residents’ parking privileges.

The street committee of the Port Orchard City Council opted to hold a public hearing to discuss proposed boat and RV parking ordinances during its regular meeting Tuesday night. In response, more than a dozen citizens showed up to make their feelings heard — between two and three times the number that regularly attend full council sessions.

Many came to upbraid the committee for even suggesting prohibiting RVs and boats from parking on the street. Others came to offer myriad suggestions for refining, narrowing and even re-writing the proposed ordinances.

“I’m here to see if we’re all going to be wearing swastikas pretty soon,” said attendee Brett Ness, likening the restrictions to those imposed by the Third Reich.

Because most of those at the hearing owned boats and/or RVs, most of the testimony was personal and, at times, vehement. Ness, who came to back up his father, RV owner Richard Ness, expressed anger that the city seemed bent on denying his father his well-earned retirement.

According to the Nesses, keeping RVs off the street amounted to the same thing as taking Richard Ness’ RV away from him.

Ness lives on a smaller lot and he said there was no way he could safely park his camper on his property, even if he could get the vehicle onto it. He also pointed out that, with the width of his street, his RV wasn’t impeding traffic at all.

“Even if there’s somebody parked on the other side, there’s enough room to get through,” Ness said.

Brett Ness suggested the committee discriminate between the older, wider street and the newer, narrower streets in the ordinance. He said he didn’t see any reason to penalize his father simply because modern planning guidelines encourage reduced street widths.

“If you live on a street that’s more than 40 feet wide, what’s the problem?” Ness said. “Leave it alone.”

Several complained of the discord between the parking ordinance and another ordinance restricting the number of boats and RVs that can be parked on a residential property. They said the two magnified each other and caused more problems together than either could alone.

The city’s position is that the two restrictions, used together, would push residents to either get rid of derelict vehicles and vessels or put them in storage. But Richard Ness pointed out there are very few storage facilities in South Kitsap equipped to handle vehicle storage.

He said he called around to the local storage companies to find out if they could hypothetically take his RV, and found only one facility that had space. However, he said, the owner of that facility couldn’t guarantee long-term storage.

Fellow RV-owner Melode Sapp agreed.

“If you pass this, I don’t think there is a storage facility that can accommodate people who will need to find space quickly,” she said. “It won’t make for happy campers — no pun intended.”

Brett Ness suggested the city establish a free storage lot for displaced vehicles, but there was some debate over whether people would use an unsecured lot or pay the price necessary for full-time security. Most at the meeting said they felt best when they could see their boat or RV out the window and know at once if someone tried to damage or steal it.

Even after discussing possible compromises, there still remained the question of whether it was the city’s business to mandate neighborhood appearance.

Sapp pointed out the possibility of the city’s actions being considered a form of property rights violation and asked why the city was focusing on the aesthetics of the vehicles rather than the safety issues associated with parking a wide vehicle on a narrow street. After all, Sapp said, double-wheel pickups can be just as wide or wider than RVs or boat trailers.

Attendee Elissa Whittleton questioned the provision in the ordinances that would allow for case-specific exceptions to be made. She said it was “iffy” to let the city make judgements based on their assessment of what was “pretty” and what wasn’t.

“That’s none of the city’s business,” said Elissa’s husband, Nick. “Public safety is the city’s business. There’s a lot of the things in the city that are ugly to me. I don’t like purple houses, but I know a lot of people don’t like yellow houses and I live in a yellow house. Aesthetics don’t count.”

The members of the street committee agreed with many of the speakers and said their suggestions — particularly the ones narrowing the definition of what a “boat” is and shifting the focus from appearance to safety where parking is concerned — were helpful.

However, the committee members were adamant they were simply addressing a long-term problem in Port Orchard — fleets of decaying vessels in yards and rows of jumbo-sized campers in the streets.

Councilman John Clauson particularly emphasized the ordinances were the result of numerous complaints from residents, not spun out of thin air.

“The important thing is ‘we’ — the community — makes the decision,” he said. “We’re trying to develop what’s going to be acceptable. It’s really what the community wants. We’re not going to do something if the community tells us no.”

The committee will review and potentially make changes to the ordinances before bringing them back before the full council. However, Councilman Bob Geiger did not mince words about the difference between property rights and property privileges.

“Roads are for the purpose of transporting people and goods,” he said. “Parking is a privilege — not a right.”

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