Wheel locking leads to downtown complaints
by Anna Oakes
The Boone Town Council last reviewed its booting and wheel locking regulations about a year ago, following complaints in fall 2012 and winter 2013. The council enacted changes to signage and other ordinance requirements.
Chase Luddeke appeared before the Downtown Boone Development Association board meeting May 1 to express concerns about LMS Parking, which patrols the King Street parking lot for Cilantro's, Wine to Water and other businesses in the former High Country Bank building. The company places wheel locks on the vehicles of people not doing business inside the building.
Luddeke said the company's employees were being rude to customers -- claiming a recent incident had led to a "fist fight" -- and that the alleged negative behavior was bad for business. Board members then expressed their own concerns about wheel locking practices in downtown Boone, with board member Dempsey Wilcox asking if ordinance violation penalties should be increased and Lynne Mason, a Boone Town Council member, saying the town should also strive for better signage requirements.
Luddeke also said he did not believe the parking attendants were complying with ordinance requirements mandating that their vehicles must be marked, with no tinted windows. But under Chapter 73 of the Boone municipal code, parking lot monitors can either position themselves "in open air" or monitor from vehicles that display company insignia or a flashing light.
"We choose to stand in the parking lot," said Jon Tate, owner of LMS Parking. "We can sit in our car if nobody is coming in and out. The way we do it, if (the parking attendants) happen to be sitting in the car, before that person pulls in the lot, we get out of the car and stand in the parking lot."
As to the altercation Luddeke mentioned, police did respond on April 25 to a reported simple assault at the parking lot, according to police reports.
"That had nothing to do with a lock being on a car," Tate said. "Three drunk gentlemen who had too much alcohol came into the parking lot and started a fight with one of my guys."
Boone Police Lt. Danny Houck said it was his understanding that one of the men involved allegedly did have a vehicle wheel-locked in the lot, however.
"The man had his car booted and he came out and paid to get the boot removed and move the vehicle, and then they went back to the establishment," Houck said. "About an hour and a half later, he came back with two of his friends ... to find the parking attendant, and it wasn't a fight; it was an open-handed slap. The LMS attendant didn't fight back."
Houck said the attendant chose not to press charges against the men, however.
Boone Police Capt. Andy Le Beau confirmed that "we have received a handful of complaints over the past few weeks" about the wheel locking in the King Street parking lot.
"Mostly it stems around rudeness -- people don't like the way they're being talked to. It's a variety of issues," Le Beau said. "Every one of these incidents ... it's two vastly different sides of the story. I'm sure the truth lies somewhere in the middle."
Le Beau said police have not been able to substantiate claims that any ordinances have been violated by LMS Parking, but police recently met with Tate to discuss the complaints.
"We feel like they're being receptive," Le Beau said. "While we would really love for them to treat people kindly and respectfully and not be rude, that's not part of ordinance. But we're asking them to do that."
Tate said that when parking attendants are requiring vehicle owners to pay fees to have wheel locks removed, it can be construed as being rude.
"We do strive to treat people in a fair manner and without cussing them. We have to be firm," Tate said. He added that employees are trained to follow a three-step process when encountering irate customers.
"On that third step, they are required to walk away and tell the people, 'When you're ready, call me,'" said Tate.
Tate noted that he felt it was "very strange" that police had received more complaints than usual in recent weeks. And he said he felt the new signage rules requiring signs every three spaces were only confusing visitors even more.
He said it was not LMS Parking's goal to wheel-lock as many vehicles as possible.
"My job is to lock as little amount of people in that lot as I can," he said. "A parking lot full of wheel locks doesn't benefit anybody in that building."