As one nearby business owner pointed out on Friday, the problem has nothing to do with the lack of signage.
By Jesse Wood
June 20, 2014. On Thursday, the Boone Town Council instructed staff to modify ordinances and town code to help resolve the issues surrounding booting complaints and parking lot altercations that have become notorious at the downtown parking lot in between Murphy’s and Mellow Mushroom.
“We need to look at our code and see if there is any ambiguity that we need to clear up … I am totally in support of private property owners limiting who parks in their parking area. That’s fine. That’s not the part that bothers me,” Mason said. “But it’s how it is being enforced, especially with women feeling very threatened. That does not shed a good light on our community.”
Mason summed up the situation as a “PR nightmare.”
Council members noted that they want to see background checks conducted on parking lot attendants who apply for a Town of Boone ID to manage private lots within town.
Only attendants that have an ID badge issued by the town are allowed to boot cars, and the background-check suggestion was offered in light of the extensive criminal history of the lot attendant charged with assault earlier this month.
The background check would seek out and bar those who have a history of crimes of violence and financial fraud – in the latter case because these attendants are involved in financial transactions with those who have been booted.
Mayor Andy Ball suggested implementing harsher penalties for companies involved in booting that are violating the town’s booting ordinance.
“It’s clearly not deterring a lot of folks from following the ordinance,” Ball said.
After noting that the town has to approach this matter in a certain way because it is dealing with private property, Town Attorney Sam Furgiuele said, “You can’t make someone be nice.”
Furgiuele added that in listening to allegations from citizens and visitors who have been booted he has identified some instances where the booting companies have violated the ordinance.
One allegation was that an attendant refused to show his ID badge. Furgiuele noted that the requirement of the ID badge was put into place because of the likelihood of financial transactions in the dark of the night.
Furgiuele said that he has heard allegations of lot attendants reclining in their seats in vehicles or sitting in vehicles with darkly tinted windows or even hiding behind bushes – so as not to be seen. As soon as someone would leave their car, this attendant would emerge a few steps behind the driver and/or passengers and immediately wheel lock the car before they even had stepped outside the parking lot.
“If true that would also be a violation and would subject the person to criminal charges,” Furgiuele said.
Much of the discussion revolved around signage confusion. Planning Director Bill Bailey said his staff is working on modifying the sign ordinance – at least for in those areas with a history of complaints.
The signs would clearly be in contrast from the town’s green public parking signs. Signs would note that the parking area is private; list the establishments of the parking lot; and the punishable offense of illegally parking in that lot.
The lot in between Murphy’s and Mellow Mushroom is owned by the Winkler Organization, and LMS Parking manages the booting of cars in that lot, which is referred to some as the Market Place Lot or the Green Building Lot.
Both of those names are listed on some of the roughly 20 signs that currently exist in the lot. Multiple signs exist at each of the three entrances to the parking lot state that this is a private parking lot or parking reserved for patrons of “Green Building” only.
Now, if a person were to somehow not see the giant signs at each entrance, another dozen of other signs are in the middle of the lot and are spaced out every few spaces.
But these signs only say “Customer Parking Only,” and a visitor may think, “Well, I am a customer of Mellow Mushroom or Murphy’s.” This is something that LMS Parking representatives and the Boone Town Council have mentioned before as a source of confusion.
Tom Hanna of LMS Parking said those signs in the middle of the lot that say “Customer Parking Only” need to disappear. He said those signs have been more harmful then helpful.
Furgiuele also suggested that the town instate in the ordinance that a lot attendant notify a person if they park in the lot that they will be towed if they are not patronizing an establishment in the Green Building.
At this suggestion, Hanna started shaking his head in disapproval. He tried to speak, but Mayor Andy Ball interjected and said, “Public comment has closed.” (Interesting to note because when Boone’s Historic Preservation Commission Vice Chair Diane Blanks made a comment earlier in the meeting during the council’s discussion on the agenda item about the cemetery situation, the council listened.)
Furgiuele later clarified his remarks that he didn’t mean for the attendant to “chase someone down” or “raise his or her voice” to tell them that, but do it if they are able to warn someone with none or hardly any effort.
“It’s no different than a notice on the sign,” Furgiuele said. “If somebody walks to the edge of the lot, and says, ‘Oh my gosh [I can’t park here. I will get booted]’ and goes back to the car, you would hope it would not have a wheel lock.”
Bailey brought up a point about two “opposites” that are at play here after Furgiuele’s comments about warning people parking in the lot.
He mentioned that the Winkler Organization doesn’t pay LMS Parking to boot people. LMS Parking makes more money, the more cars it boots. Winkler Organization wants its parking spaces available for patrons of tenants. If someone is booted, then that parking space is tied up until money exchanges hands and the boot is removed – often after a person has already visited an establishment for some time.
The incentive to boot cars, which remain in the lot for some times hours, is contrary to the goal of freeing up parking spaces for patrons of the Green Building.
At public comment on Monday’s meeting, Jan Winkler of Winkler Organization asked for guidance on how to proceed and put an end to this problem. She mentioned that her priority was to keep her tenants happy – and tenants want parking spaces for customers. She also mentioned the Winkler Organization has “spent a fortune” on signs.
Winkler noted that Winkler Organization prefers booting because it is cheaper on the victim than towing and also you know where your car is located. You don’t have to find a ride to the body shop or call the police station because you think your car was stolen.
“At this point, I don’t know what to do. I am just tired of listening and hearing about it as I am sure you are too,” Winkler said.