City Commission approves new RV, large vehicle paking rules

Updated 11 a.m. Oct. 20

City Commissioners voted 4-1, with Commissioner Tracy Houck dissenting, during their Oct. 19 meeting to approve a new ordinance regulated large vehicle parking on city streets.

With a few amendments by commissioners to the staff proposal, the new ordinance will take effect March 15, 2022; limit RV and other large vehicle parking on city streets to 72 hours in a seven-day period; and include an exception for trailers being used for commercial construction or like services.

RV parking ordinance proposal on Oct. 19 city agenda

The commission accepted the new ordinance on first reading during its Aug. 17 meeting and held a public hearing on Sept. 7.

During that hearing, a number of people commented for and against the proposed ordinance, in addition to written comment that submitted to the city.

Commissioners decided to postpone a vote during that meeting to Oct. 19 to potentially consider changes to the proposed ordinance.

City Commission delays vote on proposed RV, large vehicle parking ordinance change

The ordinance, as approved, also contains the following elements:

  • New definitions for a class of vehicles designated as “recreational vehicle,” “utility trailer” and “vessel;”
  • A provision requiring a written 24-hour notice to remove prior to the issuance of any parking citation; and
  • Provisions incorporating the new parking restriction into the standard parking enforcement framework of Title 10, i.e., enforcement of unpaid citations, the potential for immobilization of a vehicle in the event of multiple unpaid citations and the potential for enforcement of unpaid citations in Municipal Court.

As with other parking violations under Title 10 of city code, actual fine amounts for violations of the proposed ordinance would be set by Commission resolution, which includes a public hearing process.

Enforcement of the ordinance would be complaint driven, similar to several other code enforcement aspects of the city code, to include the existing process for junk and abandoned vehicles; large vehicle parking violations; all property maintenance code violations; barking dogs; noise complaints and more.

RV, large vehicle parking rule on Sept. 7 City Commission agenda

Two residents said that the new ordinance would be redundant since there’s already rules on the books prohibiting vehicles from being parked and not moved for five days on city streets. It’s largely the junk and abandoned vehicle ordinance, and it can be corrected by moving the vehicle by as little as an inch.

Those two residents said the current ordinance isn’t enforced, but it’s a complaint driven process that’s handled primarily by the volunteer program at the Great Falls Police Department.

GFPD Chief Jeff Newton said that so far this year, the department had received 1,058 complaints of vehicles parking beyond the five day limit, the vast majority of which had been handled by informing the owners of the rules.

Lt. Doug Mahlum, of GFPD’s support services bureau, said that the agency’s Volunteers in Policing, lead by the volunteer coordinator, investigate and follow up on vehicle complaints. They rely on civilian service officers, or crash investigators, to assist in towing vehicles when needed.

As of Oct. 18, of those total 1,058 complaints, 841 were resolved by coming into compliance, either through a warning, the vehicle being moved, or being found not to be in violation, Mahlum said.

Of the total, 65 vehicles have been towed because they didn’t come in to compliance with the code, Mahlum said.

Volunteers are currently working 81 active cases, meaning they’re in various stages of the process, Mahlum said.

Sometimes the department receives multiple complaints about the same vehicle and so far this year there have been 71 duplicate complaints, Mahlum said.

The volunteer program was established in 2013 and since then, here’s the hour breakdown of their time spent working on vehicle complaints. These numbers don’t include the hours of the full-time volunteer coordinator.

  • 2013: 138
  • 2014: 393
  • 2015: 814
  • 2016: 839
  • 2017: 1,420
  • 2018: 790
  • 2019: 1,146
  • 2020: 980
  • 2021 (to Oct. 18): 1,220

Code changes for RV, trailer parking on Aug. 17 agenda for initial review, public hearing on Sept. 7

jeff Hindoien, city attorney, said that the new ordinance was not a duplication as it essentially created a new class of vehicles with its own rules and gave law enforcement or code enforcement more to work with in terms of handling violations.

Commissioners considered creating an extension process with a permit, but didn’t include that in their amendments to staff version.

Newton expressed concern about adding layers to the rule, especially if it were to be administered by the GFPD since that could cause it “to become unmanageable to be honest.”

City considering changes to RV, trailer parking on residential streets

Commissioner Rick Tryon said he was voting in favor of the ordinance since there were some safety concerns not being addressed in the existing junk/abandoned vehicle ordinance.

“Our streets in our residential areas are public rights of way, the area in front of my house doesn’t belong to me,” Tryon said. “It’s a bogus argument, that street belongs to the public as a whole.”

Commissioner Mary Moe said that, “our streets are not storage places for these large vehicles.”

Initially, the proposal was to limit the parking of large vehicles on city streets to 36 hours and Moe said she thought that was sufficient during early discussions, but had been persuaded by public feedback that it wasn’t enough time and supported changing it to 72 hours.

Over the summer, residents came to a commission meeting to raise concern about a particular RV parked on a residential street on the north end of town. At that meeting, commissioners directed staff to address the issue.

City staff has discussed the same issue in at least 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2016.

The changes proposed in 2011 are similar to what staff is now proposing and the commission at the time took no action.

In 2016, the discussion lead to changes in the code for off street parking of recreational vehicles on residential properties that were approved in 2017.

In 2017, the city did amend Title 17, the land development code, to partially address some of these complaints and made it easier for property owners in residential areas to park their recreational vehicles, trailers or boats on their property by allowing for larger off-street parking surfaces and driveways. Those changes also allowed for the use of gravel or pavers for a parking surface in addition to just concrete or asphalt.

City working to update municipal code [2017]

The city planning board also recently reviewed, and recommended for approval, changes to the code to allow for greater height and square footage allowances for garages/accessory structures in residential districts.

City staff proposing code changes for garages, accessory structures

“These proposed changes are driven in part by staff conversations with residents who are interested in building larger detached garages to store recreational vehicles, trailers or boats that are currently being stored in yards or on public streets,” according to staff.

Those code changes were also accepted on first reading during the Aug. 17 commission meeting and was approved by the commission in September.

During the Oct. 19 meeting, commissioners also accepted on first reading and set a public hearing for Nov. 2 on a proposed code change related to driveways.

The proposed change was brought about by a series of permit requests to construct street accessed driveways on properties in the older parts of town that also have alley access.

The current code says for properties which are served by an alley, no new driveways or expansions of existing driveways accessing the street are allowed unless authorized by both the city engineer and the director of planning and community development.

“There are legitimate reasons why city codes restrict the ability of property owners to have street accessed driveways when they already have alley access to parking areas and detached garages. These reasons include: 1) preventing conflicts between vehicles backing out of driveways and vehicles using city streets, 2) keeping the sidewalk network as intact as possible and reducing vehicle/pedestrian conflicts, and 3) maintaining greenspace in the front yards and boulevards of older neighborhoods,” according to the staff report.

But, the current code is problematic, according to staff, because it both prohibits street accessed driveways but then allows staff to override it.

“What is further problematic is that the provision does not provide any decision making criteria to assist city staff in potentially overriding the prohibition on street-accessed driveways,” according to the staff report.

Staff is proposing a code change would allow properties that are served by an alley to have a single street accessed driveway. The property owner would have to get a permit and the driveway would be limited to no more than 12 feet wide.

“Such driveway must be surfaced and maintained with Portland cement concrete, asphaltic concrete, or pavers. no new driveways or expansions of existing driveways accessing the street are allowed unless authorized by both the city engineer and the director of planning and community development,” according to city staff.