Carport sites vex inspectors

By Thomas Wilson

   Portable carports are becoming popular structures in front yards around the region.
   The structures being raised in the front yards of residences are giving local building inspectors headaches in enforcing zoning and building codes.
   "Carports have been popping up everywhere this spring -- some call and some do not," said Joseph Barnett, electrical, gas and plumbing inspector for the city's building department. "The building regulation states that any accessory building must be in the side yard or back yard, not in the front yard."
   One local awning company that spoke with the Star described the structures as "aluminum, portable carports" costing approximately $600. The company stated they did not sell or install these brands of carports. The Elizabethan City Council had declared a moratorium to cease the building of carports in the front yard some years back.
   "We've tried to contact several carport outfits to discuss it with us and they won't call us back," said Barnett. He described the carports as aluminum structures with covers used to accommodate automobiles. While the carports do not violate any code, their placement on property could if homeowners are not aware of regulations governing structures and their distance from property lines.
   The city's three residential zones are governed by distance requirements from a structure to the property lines in the front, side and rear of the property. City ordinance requires distance setbacks of 30 feet from the front yard to the street, 10 feet from the side yard to the property line, and 25 feet from the rear yard property line.
   "A lot of times the folks don't call us or don't know to call us. They see other illegal carports in town and they think they can go ahead and put them up."
   Barnett said another problem building inspectors found was the use of signs to promote business activities in residentially-zoned areas. Signs fall under the "billboard" ordinance, which prohibits residential business signs over 4 square feet in size until a sign permit has been obtained from the office of the building inspector, according to city code.
   He added that building inspectors were there to make a citizen aware of smart land use that did not cost him or her money in the long run or infringe on their neighbor's property.
   "The ordinances are put in place to protect the citizens," said Barnett. "Our main thing is to try to help folks and we can't help them if they don't call us."
   While many citizens take umbrage at the building officials citing them for property violations, Barnett said the office was required to enforce city codes that violated zoning ordinances. He acknowledges that may be little comfort to citizens who spend money on signs and portable carports after the fact. However, he said if citizens will simply pick up the phone and call the department, they will get answers to their land use questions.
   "This isn't Nazi Germany and we're not the Gestapo," said Barnett. "We're here to try to help the citizens and give them some advice on different things that can save them a lot of grief."
   Have a question about your property use rights? Call the city of Elizabethan Department of Building Codes at 542-1503