tag: North Carolina Land Use Litigator: The Lighter Side of Land Use Law: Lawn "Car"naments and Lawn "Veg"aments

Friday, July 15, 2011, 10:08 AM

The Lighter Side of Land Use Law: Lawn "Car"naments and Lawn "Veg"aments

In a departure from the usual information, which we thoroughly enjoy though which we also acknowledge can sometimes border on the dry, we bring you two hot land use topics of the type you'd learn about in the last 2 minutes of your local evening news broadcast. You know, like "Local boy wins rock eating contest" or "Dog takes wheel to save seized driver from crash".

"Hey, you can't park that here."
"We're not parking it. We're abandoning it."
--Stripes (1981)

First , on the local side, we're hearing that the Town of Chapel Hill -- the bucolic municipality of the flagship campus for the University of North Carolina and its thousands of students -- intends to crack down on an increasing problem: lawn parking. Apparently municipal neighborhoods with high student populations, and the apartment complexes and multifamily units meant to house these future Zuckerbergs, are showing a penchant for lawn parking where driveways are too small or street parking is prohibited.

It seems the Town's Land Use Management Ordinance, parking and drive areas are restricted to 40% of the front yard areas and requires an all-weather surface covering or a gravel covering. One report quotes the Town's Housing and Neighborhood Services Planner as saying, "[The parking and drive areas ordinance] is really designed to get at those properties that cover their lawn with parking and the feeling that it gives to the entire neighborhood when you have a property like that." We can't really argue with the aesthetic intention, assuming its consistent with the police powers, but is the Town simply risking a bunch of gravel-covered "lawns"?

Second, from another swing state, we're reading that a Michigan woman is facing a misdemeanor trial over a vegetable garden located in her front yard. The City of Oak Park land use ordinance permits a front yard to display "suitable, live, plant material." The City, however, does not find a series of walled vegetable plots to be "suitable" under the land use code. The property in debate is pictured with this post.

Julie Bass, the landowner, who will not back down, has already received a warning, a ticket, and is now charged with a misdemeanor. With the story having gone viral, we're of the belief that Ms. Bass will, um, squash the City's stance. Lettuce have that pun without any groans, huh?

Mike Thelen is a lawyer in Womble Carlyle's Real Estate Litigation practice group. He regularly represents a wide variety of clients in land use and land development issues, from local governments to businesses, in both state and federal venues throughout North Carolina.

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