The parking police

The Prince William Board of County Supervisors may take another step toward becoming the world’s largest homeowners association when proposed household parking regulations are considered later this month by the planning commission.

The root of the problem is the growing need for residents to use their front yards as parking lots. The problem is so big in Fairfax, that that county’s board of supervisors passed a law forbidding homeowners from paving over their front yards to create extra parking spaces.

The Prince William Planning Commission is now considering rules to restrict parking in the front yards of lots less than three acres and prohibiting homeowners from paving more than 35 percent of their front yards.

The new rules deal with unique suburban problems. People need their cars. No one walks any more because nothing is within walking distance. Add in the high cost of living and you have homes packed with multiple tenants with you guessed it multiple cars.

If there are too many cars in local neighborhoods, it’s a good bet there is an overcrowding problem in the small homes that dot our communities. Proposing new parking rules is treating the symptom, not the problem.

Yes, paved over front yards are ugly. So are the unpaved yards that are being used as parking lots. But if the property is being used as a residence, then should the county be involved with its appearance?

The question should be, however, should the local government have the authority to place these types of restrictions on property owners. It’s a shame that the skyrocketing price of real estate is being accompanied by an erosion of property rights. If these rules pass, what’s next?

The problem centers on overcrowding and the continued dependence on the automobile in suburban life. But there’s a more subtle aspect to this problem the front yard.

Perhaps people should ask whether the front yard is obsolete in modern suburbia. The front yard was once as functional to a home as indoor plumbing. Front yards provided space for kids to play and for neighbors to talk about the issues of the day.

Today, front yards are so small that a drunk man can’t stumble without falling into his neighbor’s yard. They serve little practical use. Grass cutting can be done using a pair of hedge clippers and few homes have a front porch.

If the planning commission or county supervisors really want to be innovative, they can create zoning that includes homes with no front yards. This would bring homes closer to the sidewalk allowing for larger back yards. Back yards are more private and are of more use to today’s suburbanites.

Of course, that’s not a realistic way of looking at things because the county would eventually find a way to regulate backyards, too.

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