Three owner-operators sue city over parking ordinances

| 1/8/2004

Three local owner-operators are suing the city of North Charleston, SC, to overturn an ordinance that keeps them from parking their rigs at home.

In the nine-page complaint, OOIDA members Essau Bowens and William Brown and fellow owner-operator Richmond Truesdale say parking their trucks at their homes does not cause a “detriment to public health, safety or welfare.” In fact, the truckers say the parking ban will cause them to "suffer irreparable harm, damage and injury” and are asking the court to enjoin North Charleston from enforcing the parking ordinance.

A previous ordinance allowed tractor parking as an accessory use of property, but the new ordinance bans commercial truck parking in residential areas.

"The law allowed them to park their trucks there beforehand,” Brandt Shelbourne, attorney for the truckers, argues. “As a result, they should continue to have that right. All we want is for these guys to have the right to park their trucks. It’s like telling someone who has lived in a green house for 20 years that now all houses on their block must be painted white."

Shelbourne told Land Line he won a similar case in Berkley County, which borders North Charleston County, based on the argument of “non-conforming use.” This argument basically says if the property was being used a certain way before a new ordinance restricts that use, then the non-conforming use would be allowed as “grandfathered in.”

Until the case is settled, the truckers must park elsewhere and hope their trucks are safe, says Brown. He currently parks his truck at his brother’s home about three miles away in the country and drives his old pickup home.

“It’s inconvenient,” Brown said, in his Jamaican-like accent. “But what we gonna do?”

The city claims it has met its obligations to the truckers by giving them a six-month grace period from the time the ordinance passed in November 2002 until it took effect in June 2003.

Deputy City Attorney Derk Van Raalte told The Charleston Post and Courier, "Cities are expressly and statutorily empowered to regulate land use. That is all the city has done here."

Under the ordinance, any truck weighing more than 5 tons, having more than two axles, or standing more than 8 feet tall is banned from residential areas. Trailers were banned already. The ordinance does not apply to recreational vehicles – the city council added the RV provision at the last minute.

The ordinance claims heavy commercial vehicles create a “visual blight” in residential areas, cause physical damage to the streets, reduce property values and “the character of property,” and increase traffic congestion. Additionally, the ordinance says the parking ban on commercial trucks would protect children from traffic injuries.

For parking their rigs at home, truckers could face a $500 fine or up to 30 days in jail, with violations for each day the truck remains illegally parked. The city has issued more than 140 warning tickets and more than 40 court summonses since the ordinance went into effect in June.

The woman behind the ordinance is City Councilwoman Phoebe Miller, according to The Post and Courier.

Undeterred by the lawsuit, Miller told the local newspaper, "I love the truck drivers and the job they do, but I don't want them to park their trucks in my neighborhood."

--by René Tankersley, feature editor

René Tankersley can be reached at rene_tankersley@landlinemag.com.