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Code enforcement not an issue to be dodged

One of the most politically volatile issues elected officials can tackle is code enforcement. If their goal is to toughen the rules that control what individuals may do with their property, an uproar may follow.

That does not mean they shouldn't screw up their courage and do it anyway.

Pinellas County commissioners knew that some parts of unincorporated Pinellas County were looking untidy, especially in comparison with cities, where codes often are tougher.

This created a particular problem where there were enclaves of county land surrounded by city land. For example, in the rather freewheeling county territory, a resident could park cars on his front lawn. His city neighbors could not. Disputes among neighbors were a problem.

County commissioners decided to appoint a task force of 14 county residents to examine county codes and the conflicts that had arisen because of them, and then recommend changes. The task force faithfully completed its assignment and brought back suggestions.

Most of the changes being considered involve location and construction of utility sheds, caging of livestock and location and screening of large trash containers. However, the task force also recommended some new restrictions on parking in residential areas. It is those restrictions that has county residents in a huff and county commissioners hesitating.

If the task force's proposed change were adopted, county residents would not be able to park their cars on grass in their front yards. Car parking would be allowed only in the driveway and on one space parallel to the driveway as long as that space had pavement or a durable surface.

Residents also would not be allowed to park any boat or recreational vehicle in their front yards or on the public street. And if their RV or boat was longer than 38 feet, they couldn't park it in any residential area.

County residents had not paid attention to the County Commission's discussions about code enforcement until word got out that new parking rules were in the works. Now, some county residents are angry about the proposal, and the County Commission has decided to delay consideration of the new rules.

County Commissioner Susan Latvala, who represents an area including Palm Harbor and Ozona, asked for the delay after hearing from upset constituents. She wants the county to organize a public meeting with residents of North Pinellas so they can talk about the proposed changes.

Communication is a good thing. County residents ought to be well-informed about code changes that would affect how they use their property, and they might persuade commissioners to modify some of the proposed changes. For example, some cities that ban parking of RVs and boats in front of homes allow temporary parking there for loading or cleaning.

However, county commissioners should remember the reasons they launched the study in the first place. Codes like these are adopted and enforced to improve the quality of life for everyone, to protect and raise property values, to enable neighbors to live peacefully in the close quarters of a densely populated area and to prevent unsightly properties. In the case of the proposed parking regulations, another benefit is that sight corridors and traffic flow are improved by preventing parking of vehicles in front setbacks and on streets.

Opponents of the changes likely will argue that they chose to live in an unincorporated area to avoid such restrictions and that in other counties people can park where they want on their own land. However, Pinellas is the most densely populated county in Florida. There are no wide open spaces here, and the activities of one resident directly affect his neighbors. For that reason, the rules need to be different here.

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