It’s among Palm Coast’s more vexing issues–vexing for working laborers like plumbers, electricians, heating and air techs and the like, because they’re forbidden from parking their work vehicles in their Palm Coast driveways, or any vehicles with commercial signs. It’s been less vexing for city government, which from its inception has taken a hard line, banning those trucks (unless covered) in the name of neighborhood aesthetics.
It’s been nearly 11 years since local business’ last push to relax the rule, a push that went nowhere even at a time when the city had a functioning, broad-based chamber of commerce that mobilized businesses to lobby the council. The city council at the time was dead-set against change, as was its city manager. “I call it the tattoo society,” Jim Landon, the city manager at the time, who had a gift for the inelegant put-down, said back then. “We are tattooing our vehicles now similar to what some people do to their bodies.” A submissive council let him get away with the analogy unscathed.
Managers, councils and times have changed. The Palm Coast City Council’s two newest members, Ed Danko and Victor Barbosa, are interested in relaxing the rules. This time, the rest of the council is not as opposed, and certainly not as opposed as it is about relaxing the signage rules in the city’s rights of way. There’s an emerging recognition that banning work trucks and commercially-painted vehicles may send the wrong message about working people–the very same working people who keep the city’s dwellers enjoying their homes by keeping air conditioning units running and toilets flushing.
“This is a big shift, obviously,” Mayor Milissa Holland Holland said Tuesday during a workshop as the council went over its members’ latest interests and goals. “I’ve thought a lot about this as well. I hear input from a variety of business owners that reached out to me with an interest in seeing if this is an opportunity to change this.”
The matter came up immediately after the council discussed temporary commercial signs in rights of way, which are also categorically banned. That’s a separate matter. On that score, while Danko is interested in relaxing that rule, too, the council held firm: there will be no relaxation, no survey, no further discussion. (See the related story, “Citing Aesthetics and Law, Palm Coast Will Not Loosen Signage Ban, Whether for Realtors or Anyone Else.”) So the council’s shift on commercial vehicles is in significant contrast.
Holland said the city has 94,000 residents that chose to call Palm Coast home with the current restrictions. “I’m not sure they’ve ever been asked what they would feel about it, so asking them I think would be very beneficial to say–what are your thoughts about if the city were to address this issue,” Holland said, favoring a public survey. The idea was suggested by Councilman Eddie Branquinho. “And then put it out and advertise that it’s out to make sure we get enough feedback, and push it for 30 days to see exactly what the public input would feel about this.”
But she wanted clarity on the terms working vehicles.
“I think we’re talking vans,” Councilman Ed Danko said. “We’re talking just normal cars that might be bubble-wrapped in signage. I think we’re talking maybe pick-up trucks. We’re not talking dump trucks or anything of that nature, obviously, but I think that we’re a changing community. We’re no longer a retirement community. We need to be more business-friendly, and the only point I would make is if you don’t like the guy who has the AC truck parking his van in his driveway, you’re going to like his van in your driveway when your AC goes out, and and to me, it sounds simplistic, but it’s like, how can I be opposed to somebody who’s working for a living, who may come and fix something in my house? So I’m in favor of changing this to allow these vehicles to be parked there. We already allow signage on police vehicles, on city vehicles to park overnight. I think we need to extend this–and actually, political vehicles. I was driving around with my signs, my magnets on my vehicle. I could leave my car in my driveway overnight with my political signage. So I think it’s about time we change this.”
Currently the city code goes into details about working vehicles or vehicles with commercial signs. They’re fine, parking in a residential driveway because workers are on the job at that address. But if the vehicle is parked there overnight, or for reasons unrelated to a job site, then it’s prohibited. (See an illustrated list of types of prohibited vehicles here.)
“So what you’re saying is, if the guy that owns the air conditioning company goes to lunch at his house, that’s a violation,” if he parks his work vanin his own home’s driveway, Councilman Victor Barbosa asked Bill Reischmann, the city attorney.
“We have that come to Code Board on a regular basis,” Reischmann said.
“That’s pretty sad,” Barbosa said. Barbosa himself had been summoned to the code board for repeated violations of his own, as he parked his pick-up truck, emblazoned with his “Man Cave” insignias, in his Fieldstone Lane driveway in 2020 and through early this year. His hearing was cancelled when he finally brought himself into compliance. The experience rankled him, and he’s joined Danko in trying to loosen the regulations.
“I’m not trying to say it’s sad or it’s great or it’s wrong,” Reischmann said. “I am trying to address what was asked by this council, and that is: what is a commercial vehicle.” Reischmann then outlined the very specific guidelines, which ban agricultural, construction, industrial equipment and vehicles with advertising markings that exceed three square feet per side (making many commercial magnets on the side of cars permissible), among other regulations. Commercial vehicles are also regulated or banned. (See the ordinance here.)
“There’s nothing preventing us from rewriting this code,” Danko said. “The mayor’s concern about a giant dump truck or something, we could certainly prohibit that while allowing the AC truck or van.”
Council member Nick Klufas then waded into more discriminating territory. He gave the example of an AC workman with an elegant $65,000 van in mint condition. He doesn’t mind seeing that in the driveway next door. But if his other neighbor has a 30-year-old, decrepit van, that’s an “eyesore.”
“Do we have the ability, or capability as a city to actually make the discretion and the definition that basically says, I don’t want eyesores but I’m willing to accept commercial vehicles that are properly maintained,” Klufas said. “That’s the ambiguity that we’re going to have a hard time navigating.” Commercial vehicles or vehicles with prohibited commercial signs may still park in residential driveways, but must be covered with top-to-bottom tarps. “Honestly, some of the covers that people put on their cars are a worse eyesore my opinion” than what’s below the tarp, Klufas said.
“It’s kind of the same like if you have a neighbor who has a car that looks pretty ratty,” Danko said. “What are you going to do about it if it’s licensed, if it’s able to drive, if the police aren’t impounding it because it’s unsafe. That may occasionally happen from a business perspective.” Ratty trucks may not get as much business a well-kept trucks, he said, which would be a form of self-regulation. “We can’t solve every little aesthetic problem.”
Holland herself remains quite skeptical about loosening the rules. “Every time this issue has come up, I’ve received many residents emails by saying please don’t do this,” she said. “But I’ve also spoken to business owners that have asked, Can you please at least address this and look at this as an option, so I can certainly see both sides of the issue.” But the details of the survey questions are going to matter, she stressed.
So the survey’s honesty will matter: the city in the past would at times frame issues with predetermined outcomes, and as recently as this year, some council members criticized the latest citizens’ survey for posing leading rather than neutral questions. On an issue like work vans, the way the survey will be written will potentially define the sort of answers it will generate.
“We’re not talking about trucks,” Barbosa said. “We’re talking about regular vehicles as being as big as just a van. Cargo van. Not a truck, not a dump truck, not a semi. So it needs to be specified that it’s just as big as work van, not bigger than that. I don’t know how we’re going to be able to do that.” But that’s how he’d prefer it done.
The attorney at one point said that “anything of more than 1 ton is prohibited,” prompting Barbosa to say that that would exclude “most or all pick-up trucks.” But The attorney was misreading the ordinance, which states that “any motor vehicle having a carrying capacity of more than one ton” is prohibited. Still, estimating that carrying capacity is itself a vague part of the ordinance: a ton of metal can fit in the back of a Volkswagen Beetle, giving that vehicle the sort of carrying capacity that would place it in violation of the ordinance.
The council gave its staff direction to devise a survey, which will go before council before it’s disseminated to the public, giving the council a chance to hone it.
“That’s a good starting point,” the mayor said of the survey, “getting that feedback, continuing to include this in the city council discussion for prioritization. And then once we get that feedback we can as a council, discuss this, as far as the details go.”