Will Town Council Make a Boat Load of Trouble?

DIRTY DOZEN: These 12 boats were parked on streets in the Historic District the afternoon of Sunday, September 23. Although a Town ordinance bans boat parking, the ordinance is illegal and not enforced. Town Council is considering asking the State Legislature for special permission to regulate boat parking. (Wave photos)

Cape Charles Wave

September 24, 2012

First it was political signs, now it’s boats.

One Town ordinance bans display of political signs until 45 days before an election (that’s September 22). Another ordinance prohibits boat parking on the street for more than 48 hours.

Both ordinances are illegal.

Display of political signs on private property is a First Amendment right that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1994.

Boat parking on Town streets is a little more complicated. Town streets are controlled and maintained by the Virginia Department of Transportation. VDOT allows towns to regulate vehicle parking, but not to differentiate between types of vehicles.

A car or a truck is a vehicle. So is a boat on a trailer. So if the Town permits parking by cars or trucks, it has to allow boats as well.

The Wave surveyed every street in the Historic District yesterday, and found a total of 12 boats parked on streets.  There had been high winds that day, and presumably few small boats were out on the water.  So the 12 boats would seem to be roughly all the boats parked on Town streets at this time of year.


In August, Town Planner Tom Bonadeo reported to Town Council that “numerous complaints” had been received about boat trailers parked on the street. The Wave subsequently filed a Freedom of Information Act request for information on each complaint received by the Town this calendar year.

Town Clerk Libby Hume responded, “Most of the complaints were received verbally to which no written records are available.” Only one complaint was documented, she said, about a boat parked in the 200 block of Tazewell Avenue.

Town Council has scheduled a work session for 6 p.m. Thursday, September 27. The only item on the agenda is a review of boat parking. The public may attend but not speak.

Town Planner Bonadeo has reported to Council that in order to regulate boat parking, the Town must submit a bill to the General Assembly to modify the state code.

Of the 190 incorporated towns in Virginia, only three have been granted permission by the General Assembly to regulate boat trailer parking. The three towns are Clifton, Herndon, and Vienna — all in populous areas of Northern Virginia.

Town code not only prohibits boat parking over 48 hours, it prohibits storing boats on private empty lots as well, unless the lot is an “accessory” to a residence. In other words, a lot adjoining a residence may be used for a boat, but any other empty residential lot may not.



4 Responses to “Will Town Council Make a Boat Load of Trouble?”

  1. Deborah Bender on September 24th, 2012 9:47 am

    So if you can’t park your boat on the street and you can’t put your boat on, for instance, another lot that you might own — where are you supposed to put your boat? A lot of the yards in town are too small for a boat, or it might be impossible to get it into your yard. Maybe the town could make a lot, fenced in of course, for the residents to store their boats. Maybe they could use tap fees to pay for it!

  2. Steve Van Dorpe on September 26th, 2012 8:13 am

    Although I don’t claim to know what the final solution is, I agree that boats should not be parked on the street. It’s not just that they visually clutter our pretty streetscapes, but they are a safety hazard for drivers and for our children.

    Typically the trailers are wider than the vehicles by a few feet, which causes an obstruction in the drive lane. (If there were painted parking spaces on the streets — which I don’t think any of us want to see — I’d bet the trailers’ footprint would be outside of it.) More importantly, the boat & trailer can easily hide children playing on the sidewalk, on their bikes, their skateboards, etc. It seems to me that the fewer places they could unexpectedly dart out from, the better (safer).

    Lastly, I would not necessarily consider them a “vehicle”. I understand that they are (or should be at least) tagged by DMV. But once it’s taken off the hitch, you can’t independently operate a boat trailer without it’s truck — it’s really a “load” if left unattended.

  3. Bruce Lindeman on September 26th, 2012 12:20 pm

    Mr. Van Dorpe — I’m not sure I agree with you. Most of the boats in the picture above, I know well. I don’t think most, if any, are in fact wider than a Mercedes ML or a Ford Explorer Eddie Bower Edition, for that matter. We can pair up and perform a fact-check next weekend, if you’re so inclined. But, I’m pretty sure of it.

    All in jest, brother ;)

    But, seriously… I don’t mind the boats at all. I think the bigger issue is the speed at which vehicles travel through town. There’s where the danger lies. When I navigate through town and I come upon one of the boats above, it isn’t usually a bother, except maybe on Monroe due to the median. Then, I feel bad for driving on the median grass if needed. But, we live in a Bay community. On the water. Where boats are owned. The town/harbor has minimal storage space for boaters and most boaters, like me, prefer to keep their boats closer to home. Boating is intrinsic to the town’s culture.

    Besides, where do you stop if you outlaw boats from the street? What about RV’s? Large SUV’s, trailers used by contractors? Dually pick-up trucks with wide mirror mounts? I could go on. But, the reality is that Virginia law considers them all vehicles.

  4. Steve Van Dorpe on September 27th, 2012 7:15 am

    Bruce – I’d agree that the photos above are not the worst offenders, and that going around on your golf cart is probably the safe speed at which we should definitely do some further ‘research’ around the streets! However, I recall from earlier visits that Randolph Ave had several ‘wide loads’ to watch out for, requiring me & my SUV (mid-size, I’d add) to swerve out of our lane. (Yea for German engineering!) ;-)
    Interestingly, it appears that Onancock has already banned parking boat & trailers on the streets, and they seem to be chugging along just fine (in fact, some might say better than CC). Just sayin’…
    But – looking forward to seeing y’all next weekend! Your ‘Summer of Our Discontent’ piece was just terrific!