Boone council mulls towing, booting
by Anna Oakes
Boone's town attorney and staff are working to strengthen and clarify municipal towing and booting ordinances following a string of public complaints.
In December, the Boone Town Council directed staff to propose changes to the town's ordinances related to signage, company identification and increased penalties. Police Chief Dana Crawford said he expects the proposed code language to be presented at this month's regular council meeting.
"We've heard a lot of complaints lately, especially the past two months, about the practices of towing and booting companies in town," Councilman Andy Ball said in December.
Council members, town attorney Sam Furgiuele and Planning & Inspections Director Bill Bailey expressed concerns that many vehicle owners are confused by existing signage and a lack of visibility on the part of parking attendants.
Angela Kelly, owner of Proper restaurant on Water Street, spoke during the December meeting's public comment period to share concerns about booting by Lot Management Solutions. LMS patrols the parking lot at the corner of King and Water streets, as well as other lots in town.
Kelly said a woman who was booted in a LMS lot said she was treated rudely and that the parking attendant refused to provide identification. Kelly said she also felt signage in the lot is inadequate.
Under Boone Code of Ordinances Chapter 73, attendants booting vehicles are required to wear a photo ID issued by the town.
"As small business owners, we spend a lot of energy building relationships with customers. This company kind of derails that in the way they do their business," she said.
Jon Tate, owner of LMS, did not return repeated phone calls to his business seeking comment.
Bailey said complaints led him to investigate the situation by parking in the lot. Bailey said his truck was booted within five minutes by an attendant waiting in a Camaro. Another time, Bailey said he approached an attendant in the lot and asked for ID, but the attendant had none.
"That's clearly a violation," Furgiuele said. And if the attendant's vehicle has tinted windows, Furgiuele said he believe that violates another provision of the ordinance barring attendants from hiding. The ordinance requires attendants to "remain in plain view so that his or her presence will act as a deterrent."
The attorney suggested that council members consider strengthening the ordinance by requiring attendants' vehicles to display company insignia or certain words, such as "booting company," on the sides.
A large sign posted at the lot's entrance on King Street meets ordinance requirements for signs at parking lot entrances, which must state that the lot is private, that vehicles will be wheel locked, the amount of the removal fee and the premises for which parking is authorized. The sign states that parking is for customers of businesses in the "green building," which is adjacent to the lot.
The ordinance requires such signs to be posted at each entrance. No sign is posted at the Water Street entrance; however, vehicles entering on that side pass by a sign posted on a building before reaching any parking spaces.
"The whole idea of the ordinance is to make people aware of the fact that they are on property that is not for the place that they're visiting, and it's not working on that property," Furgiuele said.
Other people say that signage is also a problem at the Highland Commons shopping center on N.C. 105, home to Ingles grocery store.
Jennifer Dotson said she and friends have parked at that lot for two or three years to carpool for hiking trips. She said Ingles employees instructed them to park at the back of the lot, and they parked in a gravel area at the end farthest from the grocery store.
When they returned from a trip one evening late last year, Dotson's car was gone.
Two large signs posted at the northern and southern entrances of the parking lot advise that parking at Highland Commons is for patrons only, that overnight parking is prohibited and that Mountaineer Towing & Recovery in Vilas tows unauthorized vehicles from the lot.
At last month's council meeting, Furgiuele acknowledged complaints about the Highland Commons area and said a sign posted there was in accordance with code requirements. But Dotson said vehicles turning into the entrance often have traffic or other vehicles turning in behind them, preventing drivers from stopping to see the sign.
A line of smaller signs also faces parking spaces near the highway but do not meet ordinance requirements because they do not list the name, location and phone number of the towing company. No towing signs are posted elsewhere in the parking lot.
Dotson said a towing company representative told her an attendant had watched her park and towed her immediately after she left.
"It bothered me that they would not have come to me," she said.
Tyler McKeithan, owner of Mountaineer Towing & Recovery, said comments about his business published in a letter to the editor were inaccurate but declined to comment further.
Staff and council members mentioned larger signs or signs listing every authorized business as options to improve signage issues.
In addition, council members said they would like to see all violations of the ordinance constitute a Class 3 misdemeanor, punishable by fines up to $500. Currently, some ordinance violations are infractions ($50 fine) while some are Class 3 misdemeanors.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that only one code-compliant sign is located in the Highland Commons parking lot. Two compliant signs are located in the lot -- one near each entrance.
Editor's note: A letter to the editor from the owner of LMS Parking in response to this story can be found at http://tinyurl.com/b9fkmfn.