The Daily Tar Heel

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Saturday February 4th

Local Parking Lot in Violation Of Zoning Laws

A letter was sent Tuesday from the Chapel Hill Inspections Department to the owner of the property, a Nations Bank branch in Durham. But spaces in the parking lot, which is located on U.S. 15-501 near Southern Village, are being sold by Gustave Mueller, who is part of the Mueller Corporation, the business that is leasing the property.

Mueller's lot came under fire last year when several UNC students bought spaces and found it did not have the features they were promised.

Several students went to Student Legal Services because they were dissatisfied with the lot's condition, and SLS lawyers helped them reach a $5,200 refund settlement with Mueller. But at the start of the fall semester, fliers advertising Mueller's parking lot once again appeared on campus.

According to officials in the Chapel Hill Inspections Department, Mueller's parking lot is zoned neighborhood/commercial. This zoning allows small business -- such as banks or health clubs -- that support residential areas but excludes commercial lots that do not have structures.

"That parking lot has been used as a parking lot in the past, and that's never been authorized," said Roger Walden, director of planning for Chapel Hill.

According to the letter, notification of the zoning violation was first sent in November 1999. The situation was supposed to be corrected by Dec. 10, 1999. But Walden said the lot is still in violation of zoning ordinances. "We've contacted the owner and asked that the violation be corrected."

Mueller declined to comment on the letter, saying he had not yet received a copy of it. But he said many parking lots in Chapel Hill are in violation of zoning. "If they're going to go after me, they'll have to go after everyone," he said.

According to the letter, the parking lot owner has until Oct. 1 to remove all the cars parked on the property. For every day after the deadline that cars remain on the lot the owner must pay a $25 fine.

Lance Norris, inspections director for Chapel Hill, said the owner of the lot must meet certain requirements in order to sell parking spaces legally. Norris said the owner must apply to have a parking lot that is an accessory to a building or a park-and-ride lot that meets certain city standards, including paving and lines.

Norris said Mueller has not applied for a permit to sell parking spaces, and Mueller himself has described his lot as partially paved and has said the lot contains the remnants of a building.

Because the parking lot must be vacated by Oct. 1, students who have purchased spots will be without parking at that time. But two freshmen are already trying to get their money back.

Roommates Marla Kinlaw and Brandee Guyton, both from White Lake, purchased a space to share in Mueller's lot on Aug. 21. But when Guyton's parents saw the lot, they decided it was unacceptable. "It didn't look like a parking lot at all," said Guyton, who did not see the lot before she bought the space. "The contract said there were lights, but we didn't see any. It didn't look safe at all."

Guyton said she tried to cancel the $300 check she had given Mueller, but it had already cleared. So the roommates went to Student Legal Services, who sent a letter to Mueller requesting a full refund.

They later found out Mueller was in violation of zoning, something Kinlaw said made her confident that they would get their money back.

Kinlaw said it never occurred to her that the lot might not be legitimate.

"It was pretty traumatic because this happened the first week of school," she said. "We thought it was legal because there were little fliers all over campus.

"I just want to warn all other freshmen to check out the parking space before they go out and buy it."

The University Editor can be reached at udesk@unc.edu.

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