Though Whitehall City Council members say they will take the time to find a solution “to make everyone happy” concerning a balance between person-property rights and property-maintenance standards, they appear poised to broaden existing city code to include a parking prohibition on unimproved surfaces in the backyards of residents.

After listening to two residents at their Jan. 21 meeting who are opposed to the proposal, council members advanced the legislation, without any discussion among themselves, to a second reading at 7 p.m. Feb. 4 at Whitehall City Hall, 360 S. Yearling Road.

Current city code prohibits parking an “automobile, motorcycle or other motor vehicle, boat or trailer” on “any non-impervious surface, non-parking or non-driveway portion of the front yard or side yard.”

The proposed amendment would strike “front yard or side” from the language of the ordinance, effectively prohibiting parking on unimproved areas, such as grass, of a residential yard.

Not addressed Jan. 21 was another provision in the current legislation: a requirement that “all vehicles parked in the parking areas of driveways shall bear the current registration or license plates required by Ohio Revised Code.”

After the meeting, Whitehall Ward 1 councilman Chris Rodriguez said the proposed legislation is "pretty fair.”

“We’re just asking people to not park on grass," he said.

Ward 4 councilwoman Lori Elmore said residents “need to be good neighbors,” but additional meetings remain to further discuss the proposal.

At-large councilman and President Pro-Tempore Robert Bailey said council members will continue to review the proposal and “work together to figure out a way to make everyone happy.”

At-large councilwoman Karen Conison said she wanted to research the policies of other cities before opining on the legislation.

Two residents shared their opinions Jan. 21; one of them was Gerald Dixon, a Doney Street resident who lost a bid for a City Council seat in 2019 in his third attempt at elected office.

Dixon said the legislation equates to “my government granting themselves the right to stick their nose in the liberties of citizens' backyards.”

The proposal was “unethically born” from photographs taken of citizens' backyards that “flouted” the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution that protects citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures, said Dixon, referring to photos that service director Zach Woodruff provided to council when introducing the legislation.

The photos included aerial images from the Franklin County Auditor’s Office and some taken by Whitehall’s zoning officer.

“You are a guarantor of the citizens' rights and not their grantor,” said Dixon, who appealed to council to “not give credence to those things which undermine citizens' rights but instead to that which ensures the citizens of Whitehall that their rights are being properly respected and served.”

Don Minor, a Westphal Avenue resident, compared the proposal, which he called “parking crap,” to entering the home of elected officials and criticizing the furniture.

“What’s happened to my freedoms? It’s not fair to a lot of us,” said Minor, who told council members he restores vehicles at his residence and admonished council for not addressing problems such as “out-of-control kids.”

But city officials maintain the proposal is necessary.

Mayor Kim Maggard said the initiative is meant “to raise the quality of life in Whitehall.”

“Unfortunately, we have had a proliferation of backyard junkyards, and it affects the quality of life of residents living next to one,” Maggard said.

Woodruff agreed, saying the problem has become worse since he first suggested a backyard parking ban two years ago.

The proposed legislation also considers the possibility a homeowner might simply pave over grass.

Any lot 7,500 square feet or smaller is limited to 50% impervious surface; lots greater than 7,500 square feet are limited to 4,500 square feet of impervious surface, Woodruff said.

Jim Graham, who stepped down as council president at the end of last year, addressed council as a resident to support the proposal.

“It will make our city more attractive,” he said.

At-large councilman Wes Kantor, who said he opposed a backyard parking ban two years ago when the legislation did not gain traction, hopes a different solution is found.

Kantor said he considers the current proposal an “overreaction” to a minuscule number of residents with too many cars in their backyards, but does not yet know how to address that problem without infringing on the personal property rights of residents.

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