During a recent trip to Triangle Town Center, Martin Simmons parked in what he thought was the McDonald’s parking lot to get a soda, then walked over to the garden department at Kmart.
His car was gone when he returned minutes later. Simmons had gotten caught on the wrong side of an unmarked property line, and the penalty for his mistake was $100.
“The people at McDonald’s and the people at Kmart said this happens all the time,” he said.
Simmons was among 20 people towed from the Capital Boulevard Kmart shopping center in the month of June alone, according to police records. The reason is that interconnected parking lots have separate owners, and the rules aren’t clear to shoppers.
McDonald’s owns its property at the corner of Capital and Old Wake Forest Road, but its lot has only about 35 parking spaces. The fast-food restaurant is, however, nestled within a larger parking lot that serves Kmart and hhgregg. The owner of the Kmart property has a few signs indicating that noncustomers will be towed, but Simmons assumed he counted as a customer.
“The signs are very ambiguous,” he said. “You don’t know what it means. It doesn’t say ‘no parking for McDonald’s.’”
Ace Towing – which took Simmons’ car – was hired by the Kmart property owner, Tim Brewer of Wilmington. It seems Brewer’s company, Z.A. Sneeden’s Sons Inc., and McDonald’s don’t get along. Brewer did not return multiple calls seeking comment.
“Obviously there are existing disagreements between the owners as to who can and cannot park at this location,” Ace Towing’s Reuben Massey said in a written statement. “It is my hope that they will be able to come to some sort of agreement so that our services are no longer needed.”
Massey wouldn’t say how his tow-truck drivers identify violators, only that each tow is “done in accordance with all state and local laws.”
Because he visited Kmart, Simmons says he shouldn’t have been towed. “Many times when you go to a particular parking lot, you may go to more than one store, and that was what happened,” he said.
Simmons said he was still forced to pay Ace its standard $100 fee, the maximum amount allowed within Raleigh. An effort several years ago to cut the maximum towing fee in the city to $85 didn’t pass. “It’s obviously a scam,” Simmons said. “How would anybody know that this is not the same parking lot?”
The Triangle Town Center Kmart isn’t Raleigh’s only towing hot spot. According to records from the Raleigh Police Department, several other shopping areas had a similar number of tows in June: Brentwood Shopping Center off Capital Boulevard, the Kmart on Western Boulevard and the South Street McDonald’s downtown.