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The Daily Tar Heel

Chapel Hill Town Council may crack down on aggressive towing

In response to complaints about unfair towing practices, the Chapel Hill Town Council is prepared to crack down on private towing companies and parking lot owners.

The council is considering a stricter towing ordinance requiring clearer signs and an opportunity to pay with credit and debit cards. It could also include a cap on towing fees townwide.

Council member Gene Pease said the ordinance is a way for the town to tackle the rise in number of complaints this year.

“It’s more aggressive towing than it’s been in the past,” he said. “And that’s why we’re concerned.”

The draft is based on recommendations from the Chapel Hill Police Department and the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership’s parking task force.

Pease said he hopes this will improve the downtown business environment.

“I want to be much tougher on the predatory towing because I think it gives us a bad image,” he said. “I’d like people to be a little more chill on this towing thing because I don’t think it’s good for business.”

At a public hearing Tuesday, Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue said residents are concerned about the use of video surveillance to enforce walk-off policies where businesses tow shortly after people park and leave the premises.

The ordinance would require lot owners to post signs warning of the surveillance and policies.

Jeff Williams, service manager of the Bicycle Chain on Franklin Street, said it is important for downtown stores like his to have designated parking spots for customers who drive into town.

He said while the Bicycle Chain hasn’t towed anyone, he has seen cars towed from the nearby lot reserved for Noodles and Company and other businesses.

“There’s a towing company that tows from the rest of the lot out here pretty hard core,” he said.

The quick response time of towing companies once drivers walk off the premises is troubling, especially with the holiday season approaching, Pease said.

“There should be some reasonableness,” he said. “Some of the letters we get appear that tow trucks are hanging out downtown.”

But towing company owners like George King of George’s Towing and Recovery say business owners stipulate response time.

Several council members have suggested downtown business owners collaborate to allow patrons to visit other businesses and park in one lot, as long as they don’t leave their car for an unreasonable amount of time.

Jim Norton, the executive director of the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership, said in the end it is up to private business owners.

“They feel sorry for their customers, but they also post the notices on the lots,” Norton said.

The partnership has not noticed towing creating a hostile business environment, he said.

The proposed ordinance would also require towing companies to accept credit and debit cards in addition to cash for towing fees, but towing companies are worried people might retract payment.

UNC wrestling coach C.D. Mock, whose car was towed in July, said regulations will stop towing companies from taking advantage of people without $100 cash, who often have to pay extra to store their cars overnight.

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The council might also apply the downtown towing fee cap set in 2008 to the rest of the town.

The council could act on the ordinance in February.

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