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Lawn parking ban could include gravel permit


Woodburn City Council discusses draft ordinance that would require parking on improved surfaces or behind fence

The Woodburn City Council discussed a draft nuisance ordinance last week that would prohibit lawn parking in city limits.

After a lengthy discussion that included comments from the public as well, councilors recommended several changes to the proposed ordinance and remanded it back to city staff.

As originally presented, the ordinance would prohibit the parking of a motor vehicle on any residential lot, except on an “improved surface” (defined as concrete, asphalt, gravel or other parking surface, but not grass or dirt) or behind an opaque fence or wall at least 6 feet tall.

Under the draft, unattended vehicles in violation of the ordinance could be issued a class 4 citation on sight, which carries a $125 fine.

Councilors expressed several concerns about the draft, including that the wide variety of parking surfaces utilized by city residents — as illustrated in a slideshow by Police Chief Scott Russell — would make the ordinance difficult to enforce.

“When we started down this path, it looked rather simple. If I understood the issue, it was people parking on grass, and how do we stop that?” Council President Pete McCallum said.

“But this has become extremely complex, in terms of where I thought we started and what we were looking at, to where we are now,” McCallum continued.

The issue of residents parking cars on their lawns was first pressed months ago by the Historic Woodburn Neighborhoods Association. The practice is already prohibited under the Woodburn Development Ordinance, however, the WDO allows for grandfathered uses and cannot be applied retroactively.

Another major concern was that the proposed ordinance contains a loophole in which residents in violation could simply gravel over their front yards.

“Can we just throw gravel wherever we want to park?” Councilor Lisa Ellsworth asked. “That was my concern: Are we encouraging people to just pour gravel on what used to be their front lawn?”

This led to a discussion of whether the laying of gravel should require a permit, to prevent such a practice.

“I don’t think we want to regulate decorative gravel, just gravel for the purpose of parking,” Ellsworth said. “It should be on a driveway, and most driveways are in front of a garage or carport or parking area.”

Councilor Frank Lonergan, and others, expressed worries about potential government overreach.

“If someone wants to gravel their front lawn, I don’t think that I as a councilor can stop them from doing that,” he said. “To me, it’s not attractive, ... but if they want to park something there, that is their right.”

He said he was in favor of prohibiting parking on grass and dirt, but wanted the overall ordinance to be kept simple.

“I don’t think that I can be a watchdog for every front lawn in the city of Woodburn,” he said. “I think that’s going to be an endless task.”

Councilor Jim Cox said he believes the matter is “more than an aesthetic issue,” and ultimately factors into whether Woodburn can attract new residents and businesses.

“If you look like a hillbilly community, you’re not going to attract too many people,” he joked. “I understand that we can’t have government overreach, and I’m not in favor of that ... but we should not be ashamed of the fact that we’re trying to make our community look better.”

Both Mayor Kathy Figley and Councilor Eric Morris noted the difficulty of explaining the new policy to large numbers of Woodburn residents.

“We would need a huge amount of outreach, depending on how hard we’re going to come down,” Figley said.

Morris (who was not present July 14, but expressed his thoughts in the meeting’s staff report) suggested a direct mailer and an 18- to 24-month grace period prior to implementation, should the new ordinance be approved.

Figley and Morris also questioned the impact in older neighborhoods, where on-site parking is often unavailable due to it not having been required under previous building codes. Russell said enforcement officers are worried about the proposed ordinance’s lack of exemptions, such as for moving, construction, family gatherings or medical hardships.

Durrell Crays, a resident on Settlemier Avenue, spoke at the meeting, saying he would be in favor of gravel being permitted in Woodburn. He also said he believes that nuisance and aesthetics ordinances currently on the books should be better enforced.

“We need some government leadership to better the way Woodburn looks. It doesn’t look successful,” he said. “We don’t enforce anything, and as a result, nobody does anything because they say, ‘It’s always been that way.’”

Tyler Francke covers all things Woodburn. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 503-765-1195.