To park or not to park

Published 7:56 pm Saturday, December 13, 2014

AHOSKIE – The town of Ahoskie will continue to enforce its ordinance prohibiting the parking of tractor-trailer trucks in residential districts, and one family-owned trucking business may also continue to park their semi in their back yard.

For now.

At their monthly December meeting on Tuesday the Town Council agreed to let an Ahoskie-based trucking company continue to park their semi at their residence on their property near the US-13 Business truck route.

But parking the large vehicle in a residential area constitutes a violation of a section of the Town Ordinance (Sec. 38-139) which prohibits the parking of a truck of that capacity in a residential area; definitely not on the street and, if enforced, not even at the residence.

During the public input period La’Shanda Bishop told Council that the truck in question is part of their family business.

“This isn’t a truck my husband drives for someone else, this is a truck that we own as a business listed with Hertford County as a business,” Bishop said.

Bishop said she understood the law being written in the 1970’s to prevent trucks from being parked along the highway.

“I’ve taken pictures of our truck on our property to show that it doesn’t block anybody’s view,” she continued. “We just don’t have anywhere else to park the truck.”

Bishop said the truck had been parked on a vacant lot at a nearby now-abandoned local convenience store, but were served with a citation from the Ahoskie Police enforcing the ordinance.  The truck was then moved to a second convenience store on Academy Street/US-13, but while parked there it was vandalized.

Bishop showed cell-phone photos of the truck parked in her yard.  The photos showed a line of trees planted in the back yard.

“We have a corner lot and it doesn’t block anyone’s view,” she insisted. “It’s parked directly in my yard.”

After Council conducted its regular scheduled agenda they returned to Bishop’s inquiry later in the meeting.

At that time Town Manager Tony Hammond reminded Council that an ordinance does exist that prohibits large semi trucks being parked in residential areas.  He then deferred to Police Chief Troy Fitzhugh who was instructed at the October Council meeting to research if other municipalities within a 50 mile area have similar restrictions.  He presented responses from Plymouth, Weldon, and Roanoke Rapids regarding those towns’ ordinances.  He said no ordinances were established in Murfreesboro or Rich Square

“There weren’t many that had anything on file,” the Chief stated. “The ones that responded said they had the same thing as we have. They spoke about not having tractor-trailers within 300 feet of a residential area and having similar type enforcement in their towns, not only in driving in residential areas but also in getting to their point of designation if they (trucks) had to go through a residential area.”

In his response, Fitzhugh supported maintaining the ordinance as written, citing an incident where a semi drove behind Vidant Roanoke-Chowan Hospital recently and damaged a light pole and power lines that cut off electricity to nearby residences. The Chief said the truck driver never stopped.

“Those are the types of incidents that can happen in our community as well as to children,” Fitzhugh maintained. “That’s my interest as far as public safety.”

Fitzhugh said he was aware of semi-truck parking off NC-561 near the Ahoskie Inn by the Duck-Thru Fuel Stop convenience store.  As for in-town parking he stated he was aware of a truck parked off MLK Drive.

“There may have been more but that’s the one when driving through the community that I have regularly seen,” Fitzhugh said. “What we’re looking at is where would the other people park at and what other towns have said is that they would park at abandoned property such as on Academy Street near the Tomahawk Restaurant which is closed down.  My concern would definitely be more damage to property, but my main concern is for public safety.”

Fitzhugh admitted to being a neighbor of the Bishops; both couples’ children having played together in the same back yard where the truck is now parked.

“We’re not talking about bad people,” the Chief said. “We’re talking about whether we have an ordinance suitable for all our citizens or suitable for just one.”

Asked about citations served on other trucks at the Academy St. property, Fitzhugh said were for violation of the ordinance and possibly for trespassing, but he was not sure.

The Bishop property is located two blocks from Academy at the Rogers St. intersection and crosses only Carolina Ave. where there are more businesses than residences. Since they appeared before Council in October they were allowed to park on their property, but not in the street.

Councilman C. David Stackhouse suggested parking on city property adjacent to the old Armory (“It’s fenced in, and it belongs to the town.”), which would allow for maintaining the ordinance.

Councilman Charles Freeman cited a huge private property area on US-13 Business/North Academy prior to Modlin Road.

“I don’t think the town could allow something to be parked without there being a fee of some sort where anyone who wanted to park could pay the fee and park,” Freeman said. “If her yard, if it is not endangering anyone, and they are in the trucking business, until they expand (the business) to where they need more space, I really don’t know why they can’t park on their own property.”

Councilwoman Linda Blackburn expressed concern over the loud engine noise of the semis particularly during the evening hours, but was told that the street is designated a truck route.

Hammond reminded Council that any proposed changes in the town ordinance must first go through a public hearing.

Mayor Brien Lassiter said the Bishops were allowed to park on their property after they appeared before Council in October.  He further said Hall’s Trucking parks under a canopy off Holloman Avenue near the old R.L. Vann School, and had been parking there since before the ordinance went into effect in 1976.

“I understand safety,” the Mayor concurred. “It’s really no different than driving our cars down the street. We’re now in 2014 and we need to address this (ordinance) because we do want to encourage people to live here.”

Fitzhugh said there had been one inquiry regarding truck parking in a residential area in the last month and the Chief postponed a response until he was aware of a decision from Council.

Town attorney Buddy Jones suggested amending the ordinance so that semi trucks may be parked on their own property if the residence is on a truck route.

“One tractor trailer on their own property where it doesn’t obscure views or hurt anybody,” Jones said.

Councilman Maurice Vann suggested possibly amending the ordinance following a public hearing at the January Council meeting.

Ahoskie Fire Chief Ken Dilday, also present, reminded Council to consider trucks that haul hazardous waste and how that might impact neighboring residences.

Stackhouse then made a motion, seconded by Councilwoman Elaine Myers, to move the issue to the January Council meeting at which time a public hearing would be held. It passed unanimously.

As for the Bishops, Council voted that they will still be allowed to continue to temporarily park one vehicle on their own property while the issue is still unresolved.