By Larry Barszewski
Delray Beach doesn’t want you parking in swales — the grassy areas along streets in front of homes and businesses — because it could ruin the grass and hamper storm drainage.
The city might even make it illegal.
But not just yet.
At their July 18 meeting, city commissioners balked at approving a one-sentence change to the city’s ordinances that would have outlawed parking in swales, but they told staff to do more work on the subject and bring back a plan before the end of the year.
The proposed ban was designed to satisfy homeowners tired of seeing the lawns in front of their homes torn up by cars parking there, or having the grass killed by cars continually parking over the same spots.
Staff said there was also an environmental benefit: The weight of the cars compacts the ground in swales and makes them less effective at their primary mission of draining storm water that collects on the streets.
“A lot of phone calls have come in from people who’ve had the area in front of their property damaged by people parking on their swales,” City Engineer Patrick Figurella said. “This ordinance is an attempt to deal with a lot of requests for ‘No Parking’ signs.”
But commissioners feared the ordinance would rile many residents and businesses who use swales to park their own vehicles, or for cars of people visiting them.
“There are so many businesses and residents that they have no other place to park; that’s where they’re parking. There is not going to be enough room on the street to park these cars,” Mayor Shelly Petrolia said. “The ripple effect is going to be severe. … The public is going to be outraged.”
The change would require vehicles to park on the street and leave at least 12 feet of roadway for other cars to pass. Some commissioners said many people don’t want to park on the street because it increases the chances their cars will be sideswiped.
But Vice Mayor Ryan Boylston said he still thinks the benefit of getting cars out of the swales is worth pursuing.
“There’s a lot to be thought out here. I think it’s a great initiative. I think our city would be better for it,” Boylston said. “I just think it would take a long time. We would really have to say it would have to be a campaign. It would have to be education. It would have to be communication, really getting the community behind it and setting a date in the future — the far distant future — where we would actually be coming by with any type of enforcement.”
Commissioners asked staff to see how other cities deal with the issue, to find out if there’s a better approach the city could take.
“This really comes from the beachgoers who park on people’s swales,” City Attorney Lynn Gelin said. “We can put signs up. We’ve done that in certain areas, especially close to the beach. Then you have sign pollution all over the city and that’s another issue.”
Commissioner Adam Frankel said he thought approval was a “no-brainer” until the discussion started.
“I’m thinking of the years of complaints from the beach property owners who were always upset by the people going to the beach and parking in their swales,” Frankel said.
Deputy Vice Mayor Rob Long went along with the deferral, but said he still supports the idea.
“I just wonder how many people this actually is going to affect versus how many now are actually getting damaged swales and having dead grass,” Long said.
He agreed to a delay “because I would hate to sort of spring this on people and they don’t know about this and there’s a barrage of folks getting tickets doing something that they’ve done for decades.”
Commissioner Angela Burns agreed to the deferral as well, though she was not supportive of the proposal because she said some streets don’t have enough room to accommodate parked cars.
“All streets in Delray are not created equal,” she said.
The city had considered a similar ban in 1993 and 2002, but each time decided not to pursue a change.