Montgomery Might Steer Large Vehicles Elsewhere

Montgomery County Council President Michael Knapp said part of his inspiration for the ban came from jogging on roads where RVs were parked.
Montgomery County Council President Michael Knapp said part of his inspiration for the ban came from jogging on roads where RVs were parked. (By Katherine Frey -- The Washington Post)
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By Ann E. Marimow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Champagne flutes and martini glasses tremble each time the recreational vehicle revs up across the street. The RV dwarfs the brick cottages on Myrtle Road, making the narrow Silver Spring street difficult -- and dangerous, neighbors say -- for bikers, pedestrians and cars to navigate.

Today, Montgomery County officials will consider a parking ban on commercial vehicles, large pickup trucks and RVs on all residential streets and on roads with schools, hospitals, churches or playgrounds.

Then where, vehicle owners ask, are they supposed to park?

The parking debate touches on economic class, property rights and community values, and it is being played out across the Washington suburbs.

Fairfax County officials voted in March to make it easier for neighborhoods to seek restrictions on street parking for boats, trailers and RVs. More than two dozen Prince William County communities have barred street parking of such vehicles since 2002. And the District has long kept buses and commercial and sightseeing vehicles from obtaining residential parking permits.

The Myrtle Road RV's owner says the Montgomery proposal would unfairly change rules he has lived by for more than three decades. With its satellite TV and washer-dryer unit, the Wanderlodge is Paul Lazar's passion, his home on the road. Lazar has spent $8,000 to create an off-road parking pad and said his neighbors are upset about aesthetics, not safety.

"They're the type of people who move in at the end of an airport runway and say, 'Close the airport,' " he said from the road en route to St. Paul, Minn.

Montgomery officials are interested in public safety but also the county's image as the population nears 1 million.

County Council President Michael Knapp (D-Upcounty), who introduced Montgomery's legislation, was inspired by constituent complaints and personal experience. His morning jog in Germantown winds through roads with boat trailers and RVs, which are not specifically restricted, and commercial trucks and tractor-trailers, which are banned only from parking on the same side of the street as a private residence.

Knapp said the large vehicles hinder the navigation of busy intersections and have become an eyesore, detracting from views of man-made lakes and parks and from residents' quality of life. He wants to help vehicle owners find another place to park, he said, such as underused county or community lots. The measure would make exceptions for on-the-job commercial vehicles and allow RV parking for up to 12 hours or during loading and unloading.

"It's not just saying: 'Don't park here. We don't want you,' " Knapp said.

But that is what pickup owner Tom J. Radovich hears. Radovich walks as much as a mile to his home in Montgomery Village from the spot on a public street where he parks his truck. The village's neighborhood associations have long banned overnight parking of pickups and commercial vehicles, and his Dodge Ram measures about a foot longer than the 19-foot limit in the legislation.

"I understand there are rules. I can live with that. But now the county is assaulting the very same people who can't park in front of their homes," he said.

Mark Scott, owner of a home remodeling business in Bethesda, considers the legislation an "elitist" affront to blue-collar workers and says it is hypocritical, given that the council is considering a measure to ensure that some companies the government hires on contract pay workers a prevailing wage.

One of Scott's employees, Sonny Blanton, parks the company's van outside his Germantown home to avoid spending two hours a day loading and unloading his expensive power tools. The carpenter said leaving drills, compressors and power saws in the company's parking lot overnight would be akin to a white-collar worker's leaving a laptop computer in the car.

"All they think about is it doesn't look good," Blanton said of supporters of the legislation. "They don't like to see us rednecks here. . . . We're people, too."

Back on Myrtle Road, Lazar's neighbors privately refer to the 43-foot-long RV as a "monster" and the "ugly bus." Larger than a school bus, Lazar's RV is the first thing guests notice when they visit the street, say neighbors, who worry that its presence makes the neighborhood appear trashy and will lower the value of their property.

"Why would I bother to plant flowers? I might as well be in a campground," said Catherine Maltby, who keeps tabs on the RV's arrival and departure on her calendar. (Maltby is related to a Washington Post photo department employee.) "When it pulls up, I literally feel the joy draining out of my body."

Angie Flannery, who lives across the street from the RV, said it makes her cocktail glasses quiver. She appealed unsuccessfully to the council for help eight years ago and had been resigned to living with the situation. But when her 5-year-old daughter was nearly hit on her bike by a car backing out of Lazar's driveway, which was obscured by the RV, Flannery decided to speak up.

Lazar said a sport-utility vehicle would have similarly blocked the view of his driveway.

"We have rights in this country," he said. "If you don't like something, you move."

The County Council will hold a public hearing on the legislation at 7:30 tonight at 100 Maryland Ave. in Rockville.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company