Judge keeps Chapel Hill's towing rules on hold

tgrubb@newsobserver.comOctober 1, 2012 

— The town won’t be able to enforce its towing rules in private lots until the Court of Appeals makes a final ruling, possibly next year.

Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson sided Aug. 2 with a lawsuit filed by George’s Towing & Recovery that the ordinance was unconstitutional regulation of trade. The ruling voided the town’s towing ordinance, as well as a ban on cell phone use while driving.

Town Attorney Ralph Karpinos filed a motion Sept. 4 for a temporary stay of the ruling that would have let the town enforce the ordinance until the Court of Appeals decision.

The court denied the temporary stay Sept. 17. No date has been set yet for the hearing.

Police Department records supervisor Flora Parrish said there haven’t been any complaints about towing since the town decided to appeal.

There were 18 towing complaints between May 1 – when the revised ordinance went into effect – and the town’s Aug. 22 decision to appeal, town spokeswoman Catherine Lazorko said. Parrish said most of the complaints were about George’s Towing.

Attorney Thomas Stark, representing George’s Towing, said company owner George King hasn’t changed the way he does business. He did stop working with the owner of the parking lot at Noodles & Co. and picked up other lots around town, Stark said.

King charges a competitive rate for managing parking on private lots, he said. It costs $180 to recover a towed car and $90 if the car is hooked up but hasn’t been towed off the property.

The town’s ordinance set a $125 fee for towed vehicles, required signs warning drivers about towing and required tow operators to call police when they take a vehicle.

When asked why George’s Towing trucks didn’t appear as visible around town in September as they were over the summer, Stark said the business runs in cycles.

“When you have a consistent policy in place and apply it evenly, illegal parking subsides,” he said.

The council approved the towing ordinance in February in response to complaints about “predatory” towing, particularly at two West Franklin Street lots. The cell phone ban was supposed to go into effect June 1.

Hudson halted enforcement of both ordinances May 2. He said the town didn’t have the authority to regulate cell phone use since the legislature already has cell phone laws.

Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt has said the town appealed the ruling to clearly understand its authority to regulate towing and cell phone use while driving, and the state’s authority for giving the town authority to regulate towing.

Grubb: 919-932-8746

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