SOHO — The little white warning signs seem to be everywhere. They line the streets surrounding popular restaurants and busy retail strips, serving as stern reminders of a 55-year-old city ordinance.
5 MINUTE PARKING, they warn. CITY CODE 15-43.
Over the years, they've become a common part of South Tampa's landscape. So much, in fact, that people just ignore them.
Just ask Walter Crumbley, who lives on Westland Avenue near the SoHo restaurant and bar district and has a five-minute sign in his front yard.
He constantly battles patrons who have few parking options and opt to park in front of his house and walk a couple of blocks to the bars. It's gotten worse in the last couple of years, he said.
"Most people just ignore the sign," he said. "I usually wait about 30 minutes to an hour and then I call the (Tampa police) administrative number."
He calls between four to six times per week, and each time, a police officer shows up, watches the vehicle for five minutes, then issues a $30 ticket.
It's the law in Tampa. People are not supposed to stand or park their cars in front of someone's house for more than five minutes, sign or no sign.
That means if your moving truck encroaches on the space in front of your neighbor's house, you'd better get everything packed and out of there in five minutes.
Limit your Christmas party to, say, a gift exchange and a quick hug. If you're watching your kids trick-or-treat from the street, make sure they don't dawdle.
Actually, the code only applies to parkers or standers who don't have a homeowner's "expressed or implied consent" to be there.
Police won't go around and ticket just anyone parked in front of a home. Someone must call and report it as a problem, so it's more of a park-at-your-own-risk type of law.
The signs, which can be purchased at almost any sign shop around the city for about $30, are essentially warnings that the homeowner is not cool with people parking in front of the house.
Along DeSoto Avenue, rows of placards — some with pretty decorative borders — warn patrons at the nearby Ceviche Tapas Bar & Restaurant (or anyone else who has reason to park on the residential street) of the five-minute rule.
James and Sarah Buck are the rare DeSoto homeowners who don't see what the big deal is. Most of their neighbors post the signs and call police, but the Bucks don't do either.
"If people want to park in front of our house, let them park there," James Buck said. "It's just one of the prices you pay when you live in the city.
"I think it gets to be a problem if neighbors and police are spending this much time enforcing parking."
That's exactly what the city transportation department doesn't want, said city traffic analyst William Porth, who reports that he has seen more and more signs lining SoHo and Bayshore area streets in the past few years. (He hasn't seen it as much in neighborhoods like Seminole Heights, Sulphur Springs and West Shore, he said.)
On streets where almost every house has one, it appears that drivers searching for parking spaces tend to give up and just park in front of the homes anyway. That was the case on Waverly Avenue, where neighbors have been fighting to keep vehicles (especially large service trucks) off the narrow street since construction began four years ago on the Alagon condominium building at the corner of Waverly and Bayshore Boulevard.
When the signs didn't deter trucks and other vehicles, city transportation officials worked out a plan to designate six parking spaces on Waverly, hoping drivers would use that space instead of parking illegally and aggravating homeowners.
The city doesn't want people using the signs as a way to self-regulate parking patterns in the neighborhoods, Porth said, because there are times when service trucks and other guests need to park in front of homes for legitimate reasons. The hope is that some homeowners will be like the Bucks and occasionally ignore them.
City Council member Linda Saul-Sena said the code originally had good intentions back when more people in the city began owning cars but didn't have driveways or garages.
"We developed the five-minute rule to protect homeowners so they can park in front of their homes," she said. "The challenge is that the police can't be everywhere and some people don't follow the rules."
In her own Davis Islands neighborhood, Saul-Sena sees the dilemma all around. On Adalia Avenue, for example, homeowners deal with spillover parking from those who can't or don't want to use the Tampa General parking garage.
Parking overall has been a problem for people in the Channel District and Ybor City, where the city had to move from a five-minute parking rule to a no-parking rule in some areas, and residents are issued permits to park. The City Council plans to address an array of SoHo parking issues in a workshop on May 22.
"The issue is an indication," Saul-Sena said, "that we're growing up as a city."
Emily Nipps can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3431.