Thursday, January 18, 2018
Transportation

Tampa's 5-minute parking rule for neighborhoods deemed unenforceable

TAMPA — Nobody knows how many Tampa homeowners have posted signs saying "5 minute parking, City Code 15-43," but there are a lot of them.

The 5-minute rule has been in the city's code since at least 1989. Some of the signs are plain. Some are fancy. City Hall doesn't approve where they go, or track where they are.

Instead, residents pay for the signs themselves, with no permit needed.

Historically, those who have cared enough have been able to call police to write tickets for cars left more than 5 minutes in front of a posted property.

No more.

Police don't keep readily available statistics on how many tickets they write for violations of the limit, but one last year went to a Tampa man who complained to the Florida Department of Transportation that the resident-installed sign where he parked was so low to the ground and set so far back from the street that he didn't even see it.

In response, the FDOT told the city in late December that the signs do not comply with the state law authorizing signs on both state and local roads. As a result, city attorneys say, if Tampa tried to continue enforcing the rule, it could lose state and federal funds.

"When we heard that, we knew it was going to be like kicking over the beehive," Mayor Bob Buckhorn said. "And that's totally outside of our control. We were perfectly happy with the process as it existed. For a lot of the neighborhoods that are in or about commercial areas, those 5-minute parking signs are helpful."

Police stopped enforcing the 5-minute limit on Jan. 23, and officials are encouraging residents to take down the signs.

Meanwhile, city attorneys are scheduled to discuss the options with the City Council next week, but they plan to start by asking the council to take the ordinance off the books.

"We are moving forward with a repeal," Assistant City Attorney Kristin Mora said. "The statute says we have to try to act immediately to remedy the situation."

City Attorney Julia Mandell has told the council that steps after that could include seeking state approval for a different standard, amending the city ordinance to match state and federal standards — which could make producing the signs more expensive — or charting a different approach to regulating parking in residential areas.

The signs have been allowed all over Tampa, though they were especially prevalent in South Tampa and near the S Howard Avenue restaurant and bar scene. There, parking is just one of the problems, along with noise, that vexes residents who see their neighborhood inundated with nighttime partiers.

"I can feel the frustration of people," said City Council member Guido Maniscalco, whose office has gotten a handful of calls and emails since the city stopped enforcing the limit. "I've heard stories of (people) pulling up signs and parking."

In Hyde Park, where perhaps 10 percent of the 1,493 homes have posted the signs, the change could be "pretty impactful," said Jen McDonald, president of the Historic Hyde Park Neighborhood Association.

"The biggest concern that we have is that residents should be able to park near their homes," she said. Some homes don't have driveways and, thus, lack off-street parking. And some streets are narrow enough that when you pack a lot of cars in, it's not safe for either residents or patrons of SoHo businesses. "It is something that we're pretty concerned about."

Even the guy whose complaint led to the rule's unraveling said he gets the purpose of the signs.

"I can understand and appreciate the residents, especially those that don't have driveways, wanting a reliable place to park when they come home," said David Osborne, 33, who got a $30 ticket on S Moody Avenue in January last year after going to visit a friend.

But he also sees the reasonableness of being able to park on a public street paid for and maintained with taxpayer money. At a minimum, he said, if there's a restriction, the notice ought to be in plain sight.

"I would have totally respected the sign had I seen it," he said.

Contact Richard Danielson at [email protected] or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times.

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