The Daily Tar Heel

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Friday June 24th

N.C. Supreme Court stays Chapel Hill towing restrictions

Chapel Hill officials may have to wait several months to find out if they’ll be able to enforce new towing restrictions.

On Tuesday, the N.C. Supreme Court issued a temporary stay on the restrictions — which cap the amount towing companies can charge, increase signage in tow-away lots and require companies to accept credit cards — as it decides whether to take up an appeal against the town’s towing and cellphone ban ordinances. The Chapel Hill Town Council had already decided to hold off on enacting the ban on using a cellphone while driving until Oct. 1.

The towing restrictions had been set to take effect Monday, but will now be delayed until the state Supreme Court decides how to handle the appeal from George’s Towing and Recovery and the company’s lawyer, Thomas Stark.

On June 4, the N.C. Court of Appeals ruled the town could move forward with both ordinances. But this week, Stark filed a petition for discretionary review with the Supreme Court. He said he expects the court to decide if they will take the case within a couple of months.

“Prior experience would tell me that it takes anywhere from 60 to 120 days or so,” he said.

Stark said he and his client decided to appeal over what they see as questions regarding the constitutionality of the ordinances.

“One of the issues not reached by the Court of Appeals was whether or not the local bill that had been given to Orange County and other counties that allows them to pass towing restrictions was constitutional under the N.C. Constitution,” Stark said.

“We had another 14 to 15 days to prepare an appeal and to file a petition for discretionary review, but we tried to move more promptly because we didn’t want there to be additional confusion. (The ordinance) is confusing for the public, it’s confusing for the police and it’s confusing for my client.”

But some Chapel Hill officials said they think the towing ordinance is well within the town’s rights.

“I’m disappointed that the courts issued a stay, but ultimately I’m confident that once the legal process carries itself out, that we’ll be able to enforce the towing restrictions,” said Chapel Hill town councilman Lee Storrow. “It has made downtown a really unfriendly place for citizens and customers, and I think the Court of Appeals was pretty specific in their ruling that the town has the right to enforce this.”

Former Chapel Hill town councilman Joe Capowski, who served from 1991 to 1999, said the issue stems from the right of a municipality to pass laws to protect citizens.

“It’s pretty well established, I believe, that the town has a police protection right,” Capowski said. “It means that the town has the right to make laws that deal with the health and safety of its population.”

While Capowski said he was not surprised by the appeal, he did not expect it to go far with the state Supreme Court.

“My greatest expectation is that they won’t take the case at all,” he said.

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