The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Monday December 5th

Chapel Hill working to curb illegal parking

For some, it’s an all too familiar feeling.

Your stomach sinks, and your head jerks frantically from right to left as your hand clutches the keys to a vehicle that is nowhere in sight.

Your car has been towed. But you’re not alone.

Chapel Hill police, parking enforcement and towing companies are pursuing similar strategies in an effort to curb illegal parking in the Chapel Hill area.

Jaffey Barnes, president of Barnes Auto & Towing Inc., said his company doesn’t tow vehicles on private property unless he receives authorization from clients to do so.

When he does, he uses wheel lifts and tire dollies to lift vehicles off the ground to be towed.

“When the car rolls down the road, it rolls down on the dolly tires,” Barnes said. “The only thing we touch on the car is the rubber of the tire.”

Owners of lots where towing is enforced are required by law to provide signs that include towing company contact information in the event their vehicles are towed.

Flora Parrish, records supervisor for the Chapel Hill Police Department, said some companies who own parking lots conduct predatory towing, in which tow-truck operators sit and watch customers park before towing.

Parrish said predatory towing is not illegal.

“If the signs are there, then it’s a legal tow,” Parrish said.

Chapel Hill Parking Superintendent Brenda Jones said the majority of cars her department tows are from expired meter violations, which cost $15.

Other common violations include illegally parking in handicap spaces or no-parking zones, Jones said.

The town uses three parking enforcement officers to control parking downtown. They work six days a week with staggered shifts from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and are paid at an hourly rate with a starting salary of about $27,000.

The town has issued almost 10,000 parking tickets since July and issued 17,000 tickets in 2010 alone.

“In the past, the majority of people we’ve hired have had security or military background, but this is not a prerequisite,” Jones said.

Chapel Hill police use stickers to track cars they suspect to be abandoned and select cars to monitor based on resident calls.

Parrish said a vehicle is considered abandoned in Chapel Hill if it is parked in the same place on town property for more than 48 hours.

“Even if it’s in front of your house, it has to be moved so we can tell that it’s been moved,” she said.

Despite the 48-hour rule, Parrish said police usually give drivers a seven-day grace period to claim their vehicles before they go to the town’s impound lot.

Impounded cars can be retrieved only by going to the police department at 828 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Violators whose vehicles are towed must pay a parking ticket, towing fee and storage fees for the impound lot.

The town also uses a residential parking permit program to curtail transient parking and allow residents to park on streets where parking is either prohibited or difficult.

If a homeowner lives in one of the program’s 16 designated zones, he or she would need to bring a valid motor vehicle registration card, driver’s license, lease agreement or other proof of home ownership and exhibit a need for parking.

Contact the City Editor at city@dailytarheel.com.

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