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The Boone Town Council on Tuesday authorized an amendment to the town's towing ordinance
clarifying that occupied vehicles may not be towed.

Originally published: 2014-01-22 11:43:25
Last modified: 2014-01-24 13:49:58

Update: Boone to ban towing of occupied cars

by Anna Oakes

Update: This story has been updated from its original version to provide additional information from Tuesday and Thursday's meetings.

The Boone Town Council on Tuesday authorized town attorney Sam Furgiuele to draft an amendment to the Municipal Code prohibiting the towing of occupied vehicles.

Furgiuele said police alerted him to a recent incident in which a towing company employee allegedly blocked an occupied vehicle in a parking lot the company monitors and demanded that the driver pay one-fourth of the company's towing fee.

Under the town code, if a towing company has begun the process of towing a vehicle, but has not yet hooked the vehicle to the tow truck, and the driver appears, the company may charge the driver a fee equal to 25 percent of its nonconsensual towing charge to release the vehicle. If the driver appears when the vehicle has already been hooked up, the towing company may charge 50 percent of the nonconsensual towing charge.

In the recent incident, the driver of the vehicle objected to paying the fee, and the towing company allegedly proceeded to hook the vehicle to the tow truck with the driver inside, Furgiuele said.

The incident almost escalated to an altercation, he said.

Furgiuele said he met with representatives from the district attorney's office about the issue, who expressed concerns about towing companies charging fees to drivers occupying their vehicles -- that it "sounds a lot like extortion," he said. Furgiuele noted that property owners have other legal recourse for people they feel are wrongfully on their property, "but I think it's a recipe for problems to allow a towing company to tow an occupied vehicle."

Furgiuele did not name the towing company involved in the alleged incident on Tuesday, but on Thursday, Tyler McKeithan of Mountaineer Towing & Recovery addressed the council during the public comment period.

"That's an absolute lie -- that did not happen," McKeithan said about the alleged incident. He then left the meeting. Reached Friday, McKeithan said he had said all that he wanted to say about the matter.

The council also approved a redraft of the penalties for violating the towing ordinance. Furgiuele said that the code publishing company that recently converted the town code mistakenly changed some penalties from misdemeanors to infractions.

Furgiuele expressed doubts about the effectiveness of the ordinance provisions tying nonconsensual towing charges to the companies' consensual towing charges -- "I don't know if it's working or if people are abiding by that." -- but he cautioned against making additional major changes to the ordinance prior to the outcome of a N.C. Supreme Court case.

The N.C. Court of Appeals recently upheld the town of Chapel Hill's authority to regulate towing, but the case is now before the state Supreme Court.

"At this point it probably doesn't make sense to think about any major overhaul of the town's towing ordinance," Furgiuele said.

At Tuesday's portion of the meeting, Keith Webb of engineering firm McGill Associates presented a report on stormwater management in the town. Last year's heavy rains and multiple floods brought stormwater issues to the forefront, and in October the council voted to request a report from staff.

Webb noted that the town has conducted multiple stormwater studies since 2000 and that current regulations are "very good," including provisions stipulating that site runoff can be no worse after development than it was before development, and a provision requiring storm drainage facilities to accommodate a 25-year flood.

But only new construction or redevelopment triggers the regulations, leaving many properties in town with deficient stormwater facilities.

Webb said officials with the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources have indicated that Boone is about two to five years away from being designated as a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Phase II community under the Clean Water Act, which will require the town to assume greater responsibility in managing stormwater, with more focus on water quality.

In other action, the council:
- tabled a discussion Thursday of proposed Unified Development Ordinance amendments related to appointments of extraterritorial jurisdiction representatives on the town's Planning Commission and Board of Adjustment. The council opted to table the discussion until the next regular meeting in February to give the town and county attorneys time to further discuss the amendments.

- authorized the Boone Police Department to apply for a North Carolina Governor's Crime Commission grant to fund the replacement of Tasers. The total project cost is $60,000, and if awarded, the grant would require a $15,000 match from the town.

- scheduled an annual planning retreat at 9 a.m. for Tuesday, Feb. 4, at the Council Chambers.

- scheduled the council's annual retreat at 9 a.m. for Tuesday, March 4, at the Council Chambers.