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Nanny State: Pittsburgh Residents Face Fines For Parking In Their Own Driveways

September 16, 2013 by  

Nanny State: Pittsburgh Residents Face Fines For Parking In Their Own Driveways

Pittsburgh zoning enforcers evidently have decided to begin applying a half century-old law in a way its authors probably never intended, angering residents who now face the prospect of being fined for parking in their own driveways, on their own property.

Under an old local ordinance designed to prevent homeowners from turning their front yards into block party-style parking lots, longtime homeowners who’ve never heard a peep from local officials are wondering why they’re the targets of the sudden enforcement effort, and why the law even exists at all.

The so-called “30-foot law” stipulates that cars can’t be parked within 30 feet of the street. Well, they can — but their owners must first apply to the Pittsburgh Bureau of Building Inspection to receive a zoning variance and occupancy permit. That costs $225. Those who don’t get the permit can be fined up to $1,000 per vehicle.

According to CBS Pittsburgh, one 18-year resident of an area known as Squirrel Hill received a warning letter. Another family had to shell out $2,400 in fines and fees. To avoid transgressing the law, a pregnant mother of seven is having to park her van in a narrow area between her home and her neighbors’ house, and she’s having to exit her vehicle from the passenger’s side door.

In all, about two dozen homeowners have been cited under the dumb law so far.

On Friday, columnist Eric Heyl wrote a scathing, sarcastic indictment of the city’s mystifying turn toward regulatory bureaucracy for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, revealing a pent-up frustration with city leaders for holding residents to a standard they make no effort to apply to themselves:

U.S. Census Bureau statistics released in May showed the number of city residents rose in the past year by a staggering 152. Buoyed by those numbers, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s top administrators must have convened a meeting to discuss maintaining the impressive momentum.

The conversation likely went something like this:

“Fellas, if we want even more people to move here, we have to give them something they can’t get if they reside in the tony communities of Cranberry, Mt. Lebanon or Monroeville. Anyone have any ideas? John?”

“Well … this is just a thought. But what if we begin enforcing an obscure, antiquated city ordinance that prevents people from parking in their own driveway?”

“Perfect! They certainly don’t do that in the suburbs!”

… The driveway ordinance enforcement comes after city officials recently tested another inventive plan to attract new residents with an offering the suburbs don’t supply. After street sweepers failed to show in the South Side for nearly three months, about 250 vehicles in the neighborhood were ticketed for being illegally parked on street sweeping day.

(The city ultimately relented and forgave about $14,000 in fines. But only after the realization that were the fines not erased, the sweeper had a very real chance of being firebombed on its next infrequent South Side appearance.)

Not everyone in local government is staying aloof from the people to whom they’re accountable, though. After learning about the building inspection bureau’s newfound zeal for enforcement, city council member Corey O’Connor is pushing his colleagues to have the ordinance changed. “This could happen tomorrow to any resident in Pittsburgh,” O’Connor said of the steep fines.

O’Connor said the city’s Kafkaesque application of the law has created a “pretty ridiculous problem” that doesn’t even allow residents a sensible means of complying. “If you’re a couple of feet into your own driveway, there shouldn’t be a problem,” he said. But that’s only if you have the $225 occupancy permit. “The funny thing is,” he said, “we don’t tell you [that you] need an occupancy permit.”

Ben Bullard

Reconciling the concept of individual sovereignty with conscientious participation in the modern American political process is a continuing preoccupation for staff writer Ben Bullard. A former community newspaper writer, Bullard has closely observed the manner in which well-meaning small-town politicians and policy makers often accept, unthinkingly, their increasingly marginal role in shaping the quality of their own lives, as well as those of the people whom they serve. He argues that American public policy is plagued by inscrutable and corrupt motives on a national scale, a fundamental problem which individuals, families and communities must strive to solve. This, he argues, can be achieved only as Americans rediscover the principal role each citizen plays in enriching the welfare of our Republic.

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