Chapel Hill News

April 8, 2014

Appeals Court rejects Chapel Hill parking lawsuit

A state court handed Chapel Hill and the Northside community a victory last week when it rejected a lawsuit challenging parking limits at single-family homes.

A state court handed Chapel Hill and the Northside community a victory last week when it rejected a lawsuit challenging parking limits at single-family houses.

Mark Patmore, owner of Mercia Residential Properties LLC, and William T. Gartland, manager of 318 Brooks LLC, filed the lawsuit in 2013 after the town fined them for parking violations at their rental homes.

Orange County Superior Court Judge W. Osmond Smith III ruled in the town’s favor, and the men appealed. A three-judge panel of the N.C. Court of Appeals rejected the lawsuit’s claims April 1.

Patmore said he would consider whether to appeal to the N.C. Supreme Court for a possible review of the decision.

Patmore and Gartland own rental homes in Northside, a traditionally black, moderate-income neighborhood north of West Rosemary Street.

Investors have bought up properties in the neighborhood, rebuilding and enlarging existing houses and renting them to students, who usually pay per bedroom. The change has increased property values and taxes, making it hard for families with modest incomes to buy into the neighborhood or remain. Older residents have died, and their heirs, who no longer live here, decided to sell.

The town created the Northside Neighborhood Conservation District in 2004 to protect the neighborhood’s character and help resolve noise, parking and other problems related to over-occupied rental housing.

The zoning district was amended in 2012 to limit each house in Northside to four cars. The intent was to enforce local occupancy rules that allow up to four unrelated people to live together in a single-family house or one side of a duplex.

The town’s attorneys said charging property owners for violations is more effective than trying to track down transient student renters.

Patmore said he doesn’t buy that argument.

“They’re pretty good ticketing on Franklin Street,” he said.

The town has issued 34 parking violations in Northside since September 2012, including four to Patmore and one to Gartland, said Matt Sullivan, the town’s legal adviser and interim executive director for planning and sustainability.

Town rules say landlords can ask the Town Council about having staff enforce their private parking areas. It becomes effective when they post the required sign. The town enforces four private properties in the Cameron-McCauley Historic District.

Sullivan said the town has asked landlords with significant violations to participate, but they declined.

The court’s decision notes the men did not dispute town claims that the violations occurred, the parking rule enforces local occupancy limits and the number of cars at a house can reflect the number of residents living there.

The landlords’ attorney Nicholas Herman argued the town violated his clients’ right to due process. They didn’t know the parking violations were happening, it was out of their control and the town fined them before stopping to find out why the extra cars were there, he said.

Plus, a 2012 state Supreme Court ruling in Cabarrus County and state parking laws show the town can’t regulate parking on private lots, he said.

Judge Sanford Steelman, writing for the panel, said fining property owners was an effective way to enforce town parking rules. The Cabarrus County decision doesn’t apply, because the parking rule is a zoning regulation and the Supreme Court said the Cabarrus County case was not related to zoning, he said. The state laws don’t apply because it’s a zoning issue, not a parking issue, he said.

Landlords have ways to enforce tenant parking, including fees, eviction and security deposits, he said.

Sullivan said the town is fielding more calls about the rules from parents and students. They’re also checking for potential problems in rental ads and on websites, he said.

“We’re calling those landlords on it and allowing them to fix it before they get into these regulations,” Sullivan said.

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