It's your front yard, but can you park on it?

WILLMAR -- Willmar Planning Commission members have some homework: they'll be making themselves aware of vehicle parking situations in the city's residential neighborhoods.

WILLMAR -- Willmar Planning Commission members have some homework: they'll be making themselves aware of vehicle parking situations in the city's residential neighborhoods.

They agreed upon the assignment after discussing a concern raised by City Council member Cindy Swenson about a parking situation in which vehicles appeared to be parked off the driveway and on the front yard of a house.

City Planner Megan Sauer told the commissioners Wednesday night that she investigated and found the parking situation was not a violation of city ordinance because the vehicles were not parked immediately in front of the house.

She said the ordinance does not regulate the type of residential parking surface. She said some cities require the parking area to be hard surfaced.

Vehicle parking is not allowed within the right-of-way, she said. Also parking is not allowed within five feet of the property line, but that regulation may be difficult to enforce in older areas where lots are narrower or homes share driveways.


The ordinance does not allow parking in the front yard area immediately in front of the principal building.

The requirement does not apply to residential driveways situated between the right-of-way and an attached garage or is accessory to a family dwelling of one to four units.

Swenson raised the parking concern at a recent meeting of the council's Community Development Committee. She asked the Planning Commission to discuss the parking ordinance.

During discussion, commissioner Audrey Nelsen said she thought a hard surface was required for parked motor vehicles.

Commissioner Jay Lawton said he's seen vehicles lined up on what is basically the lawn at some rental properties. He said there are several residences in the community that have what he would consider to be too many vehicles for the driveway.

He said people park their boats, utility trailers and recreational vehicles along side their garage or in back yard, but the vehicles are primarily out of the way. He said complaints seem to involve vehicles being parked right in the front yard and up to the porch.

Commission Chairman Jeff Nagel said the main objection is that the parking situation is unsightly or that lawns are being wrecked.

"I can see it's not good practice for your own maintenance to drive your car on your grass all the time,'' he said.


Sauer agreed. "In a lot of ways, it looks more haphazard and messy. It creates a muddy area,'' she said.

"I think it devalues the neighboring property,'' said commissioner Fernando Alvarado. "It looks worn down. I would rather see green grass than a muddy hole.''

Nelsen said she drove around three blocks in her neighborhood and counted 24 trailers, cars, boats and snowmobiles parked on nonhard-surface front yards, side yards and back yards.

"Is this something we can do something about?'' she asked. "Maybe part of it is getting people to understand the rules.''

"It's a balancing act try to keep things clean but protect property owners' rights,'' said Nagel.

Sauer made no recommendations, but suggested the commissioners could drive around the neighborhoods and see if they think parking is an issue or if more enforcement is needed.

"Sounds like a good homework assignment,'' said commissioner Ken Warner.

In an interview, Sauer said she receives an average of one parking complaint per week. She usually asks the complainant over the telephone to describe the situation. In some cases, she said, the incident may be annoying but it's not a violation.


If the incident is a violation, the vehicle owner is given seven days to correct the problem or it's referred to the police department, she said.

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