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Originally published: 2014-06-17 11:12:14
Last modified: 2014-06-17 11:12:58

Parking lot reps say clearer signage, direction needed

by Anna Oakes

An LMS Parking manager and owner of a downtown parking lot on Monday said clearer signage and direction from the Boone Town Council is needed to alleviate wheel-locking disputes and complaints in downtown Boone.

Tom Hanna of LMS Parking and Jan Winkler of the Winkler Organization -- which owns the Marketplace building and adjacent lot at the corner of King and Water streets -- appeared at the council's regular monthly meeting to share their perspectives on wheel-locking practices in the lot that have generated recent complaints.

Following a string of complaints to the Boone Police Department and comments to the Boone Town Council about alleged rude and aggressive treatment by LMS employees, Councilwoman Lynne Mason last month indicated she planned to place the matter on the June meeting agenda for discussion of additional ordinance changes.

The council last enacted changes to booting and wheel-locking regulations in 2013, including new signage requirements and provisions meant to prevent parking attendants from "secreting" themselves in monitored parking lots.

The controversy escalated to criminal charges earlier this month, when an LMS Parking employee was charged with misdemeanor simple assault in a confrontation with a local attorney who has been a vocal critic of the parking company's practices.

LMS Parking owner Jon Tate has maintained that the company's practices are legal and permissible under the town's ordinances and has speculated that the recent controversy has been stirred by disgruntled business owners downtown.

"We have a total of 60 properties we do parking for," Hanna told the council on Monday. "Why are all the complaints concentrated on that one property when we have several other properties as well?"

Hanna said the new requirements for smaller warning signs reading "Customer Parking Only" for every three spaces in monitored parking lots are confusing drivers who don't realize the parking is only for customers doing business in the Marketplace building.

"Those signs need to go," Hanna said. "The lot's just too busy with signs."

Winkler said the property owners prefer wheel-locking because it is more convenient and less expensive than towing.

"When you are in the towing and wheel-lock business, nobody is happy," Winkler said. "As a landlord I can't make everybody happy, so I choose to make our tenants happy."

Winkler asked the council not to rush any proposed changes to its ordinance and to consider the perspective of landlords and tenants.

"I'm not excited about the problems that have occurred there, and that's the last thing that we want," she said. "We have spent a fortune on signs. Taking them up, taking them down. Your responsibility as leaders is to tell us what you want us to do and stick with it. We change all the time."

Boone Police Capt. Andy Le Beau said Tuesday that other than the recent assault arrest, police do not have evidence that LMS Parking has violated town ordinances.

"We substantiated that at least one employee was being rude, but that is still not against the ordinance," Le Beau said. "The police department's role is limited to enforcing the ordinance and keeping the peace.

"We will continue to try to work with the management of LMS to resolve any issues that arise," Le Beau added. "Recently we asked them to reposition some of their signs facing Water Street to ensure that they would be in compliance with the sign requirements."

Council members indicated they would discuss the matter as part of the agenda for the continuation of the regular meeting at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 19, at the Council Chambers at 1500 Blowing Rock Road.

Also at Monday's meeting, the council:

held a public hearing on the proposed 2014-15 town budget, which includes a six-cent property tax increase. Only two citizens spoke. Tina Krause of the Hospitality House thanked the council for restoring funding for outside agencies, and resident Steve Frank asked the council to install a permanent generator for the pump station supplying water to his neighborhood.

heard a request from Roberta Jackson and Diane Blanks of the Historic Preservation Commission for a warning sign to be installed at the old "city cemetery" near the ASU campus. The cemetery, which features a "white side" and a "black side" where slaves were buried, has fell victim to vandalism and theft over the years, they said.

"At present only the white section of the cemetery is fenced," Jackson said. Town attorney Sam Furgiuele suggested that the council first determine who owns the property.