MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

January 10, 2013

City may let people park on the grass

City may suspend enforcement while ordinance is revisited

Enforcement of a prohibition against parking on unpaved surfaces may be suspended while city officials decide whether to revise the ordinance.

The issue resurfaced this week after code enforcement officers cited James Hodge Ford for allegedly displaying vehicles on unpaved surfaces.

Ward III Councilor Randy Howard, who works at James Hodge Ford, said he believes the ordinance prohibiting vehicles from being parked on grassy or graveled surfaces is being misapplied. He said the ordinance was intended to keep people from parking on lawns in residential areas.

“I think sometimes we pick and choose what we enforce,” Howard said, citing examples of other businesses that display goods on unpaved surfaces without legal repercussion. “If we are going to enforce something, it ought to be enforced equally.”

Howard said he opposes displaying vehicles on rights of way, in drainage ditches or anywhere that jeopardizes public safety. However, he said there needs to be some modicum of common sense when it comes to the city’s zoning laws.

Planning Director Gary Garvin said a consulting firm commissioned to develop the city’s comprehensive plan and future land use map is working on revisions to the city’s zoning laws. The draft proposal, which Garvin said should be completed within days, includes language that would ease restrictions now in place.

Garvin said the draft provisions will be subject to public hearings and approval by the planning commission before it is presented to city councilors for final approval. As a result, it could be several months before the new zoning laws take effect.

During Tuesday’s Public Works Committee meeting, Howard said the city has been waiting months for consultants to present the proposed zoning changes. He asked committee members to take immediate action.

Mayor Bob Coburn suggested suspending enforcement against car dealers until the zoning revisions are adopted. The idea was shot down out of concerns about the constitutionality of enforcing an ordinance against some but not others.

City Attorney Roy Tucker said in order to avoid challenges under the equal protection guarantees of the U.S. Constitution, the suspension of enforcement must apply citywide — to residential and commercial properties. Committee members, with some hesitation, moved the idea forward. Howard abstained from voting because of a possible conflict of interest.

The issue has come up several times. In November 2010, Howard sought an amendment that would carve out a commercial zoning exception for businesses. City councilors referred Howard’s request to a committee. The issue made news again the following March and was briefly discussed a few months ago, but nothing has been done.

City councilors will revisit the issue when they meet at 7 p.m. Monday. Those who wish to weigh in on agenda items or speak about an unrelated topic must complete a form before the meeting begins.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.

If you go

WHAT: Muskogee City Council regular meeting.

WHEN: 7 p.m. Monday.

WHERE: City Council Chambers, third floor, Muskogee Municipal Building, 229 W. Okmulgee Ave.

ON TV: Broadcast live on Suddenlink Channel 14.

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