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Boats, RVs fill neighborhood streets

An RV parked on S.E. 34th Street in a March photo has spurred neighbors to petition the city to change its parking ordinance. The vehicle has since been moved into storage. - Elizabeth Celms/Mercer Island Reporter
An RV parked on S.E. 34th Street in a March photo has spurred neighbors to petition the city to change its parking ordinance. The vehicle has since been moved into storage.
— image credit: Elizabeth Celms/Mercer Island Reporter

Boats, RVs, trailers multiply on Island streets and driveways

A Winnebago Recreational Vehicle has stirred the embers of a neighborhood dispute over right-of-way parking laws and residential eyesores, leading to a petition for the City Council to change Mercer Island’s public parking ordinance.

During their Sept. 21 meeting, City Councilmembers discussed a proposal to change ordinance 10.36.229, “Rules of the Road,” by adding a section that prohibits “oversized vehicle parking and storage on city streets, highways and right-of-ways.” Currently, such vehicles are allowed to park on Island streets for a maximum of 72 hours, after which they must be moved.

Yet the residents of a North-end neighborhood feel that this stipulation is inappropriate.

On Sept. 8, Michael Agather, elected by his neighbors to rid their street of an RV, presented the City Council with a 23-name petition to “amend the parking ordinance to prevent violators from avoiding penalties by making inconsequential changes in where the vehicle is parked.” Last week, the city proposed a solution.

Public eyesore

According to the city’s recently proposed ordinance, No. 09C-12, Mercer Island’s existing 72-hour grace period for parked vehicles will be eliminated. The ordinance does not apply to vehicles parked “temporarily” — three hours or less — for delivery and pick-up purposes.

The proposed dimensions for an “oversized vehicle” are any mobile unit greater than 22 feet in length or nine feet in height. This includes RVs, moving vans, boat trailers and any other mobile unit of such size.

The draft ordinance, presented in its first reading on Monday, was the subject of City Council scrutiny. Councilmembers debated what might constitute an “oversized vehicle” as well as how the ordinance would sit with Island boat owners, many of whom park their trailers on the street.

“Didn’t this come from one RV at one location?” asked Councilmember El Jahnke. “What surpised me is that we agreed to do an ordinance about oversized vehicles, but then it jumped to include boats and trailers.”

The Councilmember said he was worried about the dozens of trailers parked along East Mercer Way not far from the Island’s only public boat launch under the East Channel Bridge. Boat owners are forced to park their trailers along the road when space fills up in the launch and City Hall parking lot, which the city opened up for the purpose.

If the new law goes into effect, any boat trailer parked on the street for more than three hours is subject to citation. Jahnke, for one, is worried about this fact.

“These ordinances, we have to think of situations that might occur where we create unintended consequences,” he said.

The comment moved Councilmembers to propose an “exception for trailers parked along East Mercer Way” to the draft ordinance.

Mike Cero asked the city to go further and word the new ordinance so that it “just focuses on RVs,” whereas Bruce Bassett said that the ruling should come down to size, not definition.

“RV sounds like a semi-ambiguous term. To me it comes down to the size rather than the type of vehicle,” he said.

All of these factors will be discussed by city staff, who will rewrite the draft ordinance for the City Council to look at again on Oct. 19.

Meanwhile, the residents of a North-end neighborhood are eagerly waiting for a resolution. After all, it was they who brought the issue to City Hall in the first place.

The back story

Angela Stewart has been working to rid her street of a 30-foot Winnebego Warrior for more than six months now. The S.E. 34th Street resident spent nearly three months looking at the behemoth vehicle parked outside her kitchen window. Put simply, it was an eyesore and visual obstruction for drivers turning the corner, she said. And it was there everyday. Taking matters into her own hands, Stewart called the police to have the RV written-up.

But there was just one problem, the owner of the Winnebego, Peter Johnstone, was not breaking any laws. As long as he moved the vehicle every 72 hours, he was legally unaccountable.

Officer Kim Druktenis, who is in charge of city parking violations, responded several times to complaints about the Winnebego. Each time she marked the RV, it had been moved 72 hours later. Johnstone clearly knew the law, and he took care to abide it.

“We got into a game of cat and mouse,” Druktenis said. “He’d move [the RV] every time I put a tag on it. Then I started tagging it so he wouldn’t know I tagged it and it was still moving.”

The officer said she spoke to Johnstone in person and that “he understands that he’s abiding by the law.”

Johnstone, who said he respects his neighbors’ decision to change the city’s parking law, believes he has a right to keep his RV parked on the street outside his condominium.

“I try to be reasonable and considerate in where I park, within the law,” Johnstone said.

Yet neighbors beg to differ. James Wilhelm, another signatory on the 23-name petition brought to City Hall against the Winnebego, said that Johnstone cheated the system by only moving his RV “three feet every 72 hours.”

“He knew the rules. Once a week he’d drive [the RV] around the block and back to where it was parked.”

Like neighbors Michael Agather, who presented the petition to Councilmembers, and Stewart, Wilhelm also was annoyed by the Winnebego, which sat across from his house on 79th Ave. SE for three months after Johnstone moved it from S.E. 34th street.

“It’s a large cumbersome monstrosity,” the Islander said.

Emergency relief

Today the Winnebego is no longer present. After putting up with months of complaints, harassment and even vandalism to his RV, according to Johnstone, he is once again paying $160 a month to have the vehicle kept in a South-end storage unit. Johnstone said he moved the Winnebego into his neighborhood last spring in an effort to save money and because he was planning to use it over the summer. But more importantly, the RV could serve as an emergency center for Johnstone, his wife and neighbors.

“I can immediately be mobile and safely housed (up to six persons, plus enough camping gear for another 20, plus)... have clean drinking water, hot water for bathing, electricity and gas for cooking, refrigeration, etc.,” he said. “Having endured the week without power a couple of winters back, I will be better prepared next time. And, I will be able to use the vehicle to offer shelter, hot food and drinks to my neighbors in need.”

The outcry that Johnstone received from neighbors has shocked and angered the decades-long Island resident. According to Johnstone, he believes he has been unfairly victimized in the matter.

“During this period I have been subjected to some of the worst behavior and attitudes I have experienced while living here for the last 20-plus years, from a very small number of people who have engaged in an individual and group campaign of bad manners, harassment, threatening and vandalism toward me and my vehicle,” he said.

Johstone said he will appear at the Oct. 19 City Council meeting, where the proposed parking ordinance will be opened up for Council approval, to personally express his opinions on the matter.

If the City Council does approve regulations that prohibit Islanders from storing boats, trailers or oversized vehicles on city streets, Mercer Island will be on par with city parking laws in Bellevue and several other King County jurisdictions.

For more information on parking regulations, visit the city Web site, www.mercergov.org.

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