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Town Addresses Private Parking Lots; Says Tickets To Be Waived

On the left, a private pay parking lot on Canal Drive directly adjacent to a Town of Carolina Beach parking lot on the right.

Managing Editor

CAROLINA BEACH - If you received a ticket for parking at a private parking lot in Carolina Beach prior to Memorial Day, you may be able to get it waived or a refund.
A number of people attending a ribbon-cutting event held by the Pleasure Island Chamber of Commerce at Gibby's Dock and Dine Restaurant on Canal Drive were issued tickets while parked in a privately owned pay-parking lot on May  2nd. Many people including an employee of the Island Gazette and Carolina Beach Mayor Dan Wilcox received tickets.
Jasmine Mckee of the Island Gazette commented Friday night, "Directly next to the Town of Carolina Beach's parking lot across from Gibby's which is separated by a split-rail fence. I assumed it was a town lot and my parking sticker was sufficient. Well SURPRISE it wasn't. Of course the parking maid didn't bother arriving to write tickets until the entire lot was full of people with the same thought process as me."
Mayor Dan Wilcox said he got a $30 ticket. When asked if he knew it was a private lot, he said, "In the back of mind I guess the thought crossed my mind" but that he often parks in lots with his decal for free like everyone else and just crossed the street to attend the event. If not paid within a certain amount of time the ticket jumps to $75. The ticket also says failure to pay will result in legal action, court costs and collections. Also, if you fail to pay the ticket a boot or vehicle immobilization device can be placed on your vehicle when parking at any lot managed by the parking management company Park Select of Wilmington, NC.
Town Manager Michael Cramer explained Tuesday May 6th, "For parking, you can have a private for pay parking lot in the Central Business District (CBD). That's a permitted use by land right. That was changed back in 2007. Before that you couldn't do any private parking for pay anywhere in Town. So they made it so you could do it in the CBD. Not until about 2010 did we actually have anybody that came in and wanted to do that."
He said, "There's three lots in the CBD that are private for pay. The one right next to the Harbor Master" Town owned parking lot and, "There's one behind the one that's next to the Harbor Master lot on Carolina Beach Avenue North and there's one on Hamlet Avenue."
Cramer explained, "All three of them have to go through a permitting process for zoning to be allowed to go and put in these parking lots and there are specific standards that they put in place. If you are a commercial full time parking lot 12 months out of the year you have to do x,y, and z. Things like landscaping. The parking surface. It dictates signage and tells you about storm water drainage. You have to manage that on your property. It gives you a list of things you need to comply with."
He explained, "There's also another category called temporary private parking. Which is typically just between Memorial Day and Labor Day. That's actually in the ordinance where it says that's when it's supposed to happen. You aren't supposed to have it open before or after that. It has similar requirements but not as many and not as stringent as the commercial year round lots."
He explained, "My impression is the intent there was to encourage people that had vacant property in the CBD that wanted something to do with it when they couldn't sell it to be able to have a little bit of income and make parking revenue on their property. So they did it as a temporary use. They said, ok, we can create this temporary parking space and they can go and help us with our parking deficiencies with visitors coming in."
Cramer explained, "That's where the background of this is. This issue. What I've found out in digging is, honestly, we haven't done a very good job of managing that process. We've looked at it from a zoning perspective and kind of closed our eyes to everything else. And I think, and since I wasn't here, the only rationale I can come up with for that is trying to get more people to utilize their property. Being friendly to business. I have a piece of property, I'm a resident, I want to do this. Ok, let's let you do that so you can help us with our parking situation."
He said, "The problem with that is when you try and compare against all other parking facilities in the area. And, how can you tell that a private lot is a private lot compared to a Town lot and how much enforcement can you do on a private lot compared to a Town lot. In Town lots you are allowed to have a parking sticker that allows you to park there all the time for nothing. So most of the time people will park in parking lots assuming that they are Town parking lots. That ends up getting them in trouble and I think that's what happened Friday night. We had a lot of people with town stickers, residents, that were at the event and parked in the lot next to the Town's Harbor Master's lot."
He explained, "Harbor Master's lot is the Town's lot and the other one is private. The signage isn't appropriate or there isn't enough signage in my mind to showcase that as a major item for that parking lot. There is supposed to be signage when you come into the lot that says this is a private parking lot, pay by space, towing will be enforced, here's the tow company we work with, here's their number if you get towed... That's supposed to be at the entrance of these lots. None of those lots have that and that becomes a communication problem. How is anybody going to know it's not a Town lot."
Cramer explained, "What my intent working on this project is, I'm going to talk to the three property owners, explain to them the issues and the things they should be complying with and that they aren't; probably not through any fault of their own. And then talk to the company they have hired to go and manage the parking area and make sure they understand what they can and cannot do."
He said, "I think we can work through this but it’s going to take a little bit of time. One of the issues is the Town has the police powers in the community and is able to ticket and tow on public property. Town parking lots and streets. On private property they are allowed to tow as long as it is signed appropriately. And there is nothing in state or local legislation that prohibits them from charging an invoice charge for somebody who doesn't pay in their parking lot."
He explained, "It's a civil invoice. It doesn't have police powers. But the companies do send them out and many of the invoices look like citations or look like tickets. That's one of the things I want to talk to the company about and say, the holder that you put your ticket in says "Parking Ticket" right on it. Ticket denotes enforcement powers. You don't have them. It needs to say "Parking Invoice" if you're going to do that. Where it says citation on there, it needs to say invoice because that's confusing people."
Cramer explained, "Because this is a visitor friendly type of an area, they don't want to tow. They want to just tell the person here is your invoice, you didn't pay us. There isn't anything illegal about that but yes, once you go through the process the only thing that they could do is put it on your credit report and ding your credit. The only way around that is to have every person that gets one of these invoices to sue the company. That's unlikely and won't really get anything changed."
He explained it's an issue of public perception saying, "I don't want people making the mistake that they think they are parking in a Town parking lot when they are really not."
Mckee said when she pulled into the lot she parked and walked across the street to the restaurant. She didn't see the signs at the pay-station because they are located near the exit and she believed her Town decal applied just like any Town lot. Afterwards she was made aware that it was a private parking lot.
Cramer said, "What will change that is, those entry signs we require installed and said "Private Parking" and not a Town parking lot and towing enforced... would indicate to somebody, oh, I've got a Town parking sticker but I've got to park here, I guess I ought to go up and pay. And yes, at that point that little tiny sign that's about an 8" by 8" sign that says we don't accept Town parking stickers, you would see that or be more likely to see it. The goal for us is to make it a little more obvious that it is private."
He explained, "I'm going to be working with the property owners to try and make sure we get everybody up to the zoning standards and work with the company to try and make it so there is obvious difference between a Town parking and a private lot."
Under "ARTICLE 12. DEVELOPMENT STANDARDS FOR PARTICULAR USES" in the Town's Zoning Ordinance it states, "Parking lots are permitted to accommodate two axle vehicle parking. Parking lot design shall meet all minimum requirements of Article 7 Off-street parking and loading requirements and building code requirements including ADA requirements for handicap spaces."
Under the referenced section "ARTICLE 7. OFF-STREET PARKING AND LOADING REQUIREMENTS" it states, "Required surfacing. All parking facilities shall provide a paved surface of concrete or asphalt material. Concrete pavers, brick, pervious or semi-pervious materials (i.e., "turfstone" or gravel) or similar material may be used if determined to exhibit wear resistance and load-bearing characteristics acceptable to the director of operations."
Cramer said what he has observed is grass, a little gravel and in one case mulch was used. He explained, "That tells me there is inconsistency in how we are applying the rules across the board" and while mulch would be a good way to reduce the amount of impervious surface for storm water, it would not be good for a travel lane in a lot because it will wash away. He said staff has made interpretations and allowances and that creates problems.
Todd McMunn and his wife April own the lot across from Gibby's where the tickets were issued Friday night.
He said they've had the lot for about five years and has always had proper permitting from the Town. He said he's not sure why people don't understand it's a private lot and said, "There's a sign that says Town decals are not honored in that lot."
On May 19th the Town issued the following statement, "Over the past month, the Town has received several complaints about “Private Pay for Parking Lots” in the Central Business District. Private companies can operate “Private Pay for Parking Lots” in the Central Business District, if they meet certain zoning and development standards. The parking lots are allowed to tow vehicles from these lots under Town ordinance and are allowed to issue “Parking Invoices” for non-payment as a private firm. Town of Carolina Beach parking decals are NOT accepted in these private parking lots. Park Select operates four parking lots in Carolina Beach at the following locations: 1.) 310 Canal Drive; 2.) 313 Carolina Beach Ave. North; 3.) 217 Carolina Beach Ave. North and 4.) 104 Hamlet Drive. Park Select will be making improvements to their lots to identify these lots as private. If you received a “Parking Invoice” between April 1 and May 26 at one of the four “Private Pay for Parking Lots,” you may contact Park Select at 1-888-472-7525 or 910-541-3043 and request a waiver of the parking invoice."
Mayor Dan Wilcox commented May 19th, "Got a ticket? Park Select says they have voided all tickets ("invoices") issued in these lots before Memorial Day. If you have already sent your payment in, contact them for reimbursement... AND, if you want to use the town sticker - make sure you are parking on a lot identified as a town lot."