4 cars a day on average towed from Carr Mill despite signs warning that parking is for customers only

 Welcome and Warning: ‘This is  not a public lot’. Photo by Gregory DL Morris.

 COMMUNITY NEWS

By Gregory DL Morris, Correspondent and Michelle Cassell, Managing Editor 

CARRBORO – In the six months since Carr Mill’s management installed a video surveillance system and began zealously enforcing its long-standing and well-posted tow-away policy for people who leave the property, four cars a day on average have been towed. If that trend continues to the end of the year, TLR calculates that the private contractor, Barnes Towing, stands to gross more than half a million dollars.

When the strict enforcement began in earnest in December and January, there was quite an outcry across local press and social media. Still, little has been heard since, which prompted TLR’s investigation. Carr Mill management stresses that parking is for patrons of the businesses on the property and notes that warning signs are posted prominently at every entrance.

TLR interviewed several people as they got out of their vehicle in the Carr Mill parking  lot on Tuesday morning. The responses were varied, but most were informed.

“I’m absolutely aware that I have to be shopping at Carr Mill to park here, and I know my car would be towed if I cross the street,” said a woman who had just excited her car near Tandem Restaurant. “Carboro is one of the most parking friendly towns in the area. There’s no charged parking anywhere. I mean, no pay for parking anywhere in Carrboro. I think that is extraordinary and I don’t know why they are being so bossy about it.”

“I don’t understand why people wouldn’t know they could be towed,” said Jick who was parked waiting to pick someone up. “And I can see where this issue would be escalating because there have been some urban jurisdictions that have willfully reduced the number of parking spaces and with the intention of trying to encourage people to take mass transit.

“I’m painfully aware of those things because I have lived in big cities most of my life – that’s why you can count on me never to be a violator,” he said. “You could say I’m tow paranoid, I always check.”

The policy has not discouraged two local women to shop or eat at Carr Mill stores. “We are either in the pizza place, Sophia’s or the Oasis.”

Photo by Gregory DL Morris.

Vendors have a range of opinions. Several were willing to speak to TLR, but requested anonymity. “The town has not made much effort to address the vast parking problem,” said one. “They’ve actually eliminated spaces with all the construction. We’ve had no complaints from customers about lack of parking or the towing policy. We’re aware of the controversy, and it’s an unfortunate situation. Management has always been fair with us.”

Others were less sanguine. It [the towing] has affected our business,” said one. Another lamented, “There is not much we [the vendors] can do about the policy, but I’m glad you’re telling the story. People need to be aware. It’s predatory.”

The policy “has been the same since I got here in 1990,” said Nathan Milian, property manager. “That has not changed. What changed is that six months ago, we obtained and installed video cameras. We and the towing company monitor the cameras, and I can tell you that no one has been towed that I did not see on video leave the property.” He reiterated that parking is for mall customers only and that once someone leaves the property at any time for any reason, that person is no longer a customer.

Noting that the strict enforcement has been successful, he disagreed with the contention that it is overly harsh. “We need to keep spaces available for customers of our merchants at all times. The Harris Teeter is open 24 hours. The CVS is open early and late. The restaurants are open late. And there are signs all over the place! We’ve actually got signs with a QR code so people can find town parking. We are the only place in town that has those.”

Photo by Gregory DL Morris.

Carrboro has 10 free lots around the center of town. Some are not well marked. https://townofcarrboro.org/2774/Downtown-Parking

Acknowledging that parking is “difficult to try to manage,” Milian stated that “the best way that is fair to everyone is our policy. You can’t park here and leave. This is not a public lot.”

It also must be noted that many shopping centers in Carrboro and Chapel Hill have similar parking restrictions posted. An informal survey of merchants around Chapel Hill indicated that enforcement of those policies varies widely.

Photo by Gregory DL Morris.

Despite the numerous large signs at Carr Mill, however, according to the Carrboro Police Department, 585 cars were towed from there from the start of this year through May 21. That is 97% of the cars towed in the entire town during that period.

There is not much regulation of involuntary towing in North Carolina. Still, one requirement is that the tow operator has to advise local law enforcement of the make, model, plate, and location from which each car was towed.

TLR called Barnes Towing requesting confirmation of charges drivers must pay to have their vehicles returned. By press time, Barnes did not reply. The basic charge or hook fee is $290 based on public information. That is more than 10x as much as a municipal parking ticket in Carrboro, which is $25.

An additional $85/day storage fee is assessed, and a credit card payment charge is added.

May 21 was the 142nd day of the year. With 585 cars towed in 142 days, the average is 4.12 cars per day. If the trend holds steady, that multiplied by 366 days this year will be 1,508 cars towed. Starting at a fee of $385 times 1,508 gives an estimated annual gross of at least $565,500. Milian said he doubted that estimate but hastened to add that whatever Barnes does collect, it keeps. Carr Mill does not pay Barnes for its services.

Small sign identifying free town parking next to Fitch’s Lumber on Greensboro St. opposite Carr Mill. Photo by Gregory DL Morris.

Close up of warning sign at entrance to Carr Mill, on the opposite side of Greensboro St. from a free town lot. Photo by Gregory DL Morris.

The Barnes impound lot is at 54 Carson Road, which has a Chapel Hill address, but is actually close to North Chatham Elementary school.

It is also important to note that the company is operating within the law, and has a fairly clean official record. According to the North Carolina Attorney General’s office, there were 171 towing complaints statewide in 2023; five against Barnes Towing specifically, one mentioned Carr Mill. Through April 15 this year there were 80 statewide complaints: two against Barnes Towing, one mentioned Carr Mill.

“Generally speaking, most towing complaints relate to towing charges and/or paying extra to use a credit card to pay those charges,” said Olivia Weidie, deputy press secretary at the AG’s office. “These complaints are handled in the normal course. We forward the complaint to the company for response and we may attempt to informally mediate the dispute.”

She stressed that “there is no statutory cap on towing charges nor is there a statutory prohibition against charging extra to use a credit card, or stated another way, to give a discount for payment by cash. So, unless there is clear evidence that the charges are unreasonable and excessive under the circumstances, our office is limited in what we can do to address these complaints.”

There once were caps on tow charges, and this June will be the tenth anniversary of their demise. In King v Town of Chapel Hill, the N.C. Supreme Court struck down the town’s caps on tow charges. Siding with business against consumers, the court ruled that, “allowing Chapel Hill to engage in price setting under the general and undefined rubric of ‘welfare’ could subject other enterprises not only to price setting but also to officious and inappropriate regulation of other aspects of their businesses.”

https://appellate.nccourts.org/opinions/?c=1&pdf=31737

The AG’s office was unaware of any current litigation that might overturn King, adding that only the state legislature could address the issue.

“Our office generally takes the position that charges that are unreasonable or excessive under the circumstances of the particular tow may be violations of the Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act,” said Weidie.

Two UNC students getting into their vehicle were unaware that they were under surveillance and could be towed if they walked across the street. “I didn’t realize this parking lot did that,  like if you park at Panera and go to Chipolte’s you’ll get towed,” Elizabeth told TLR.


Gregory DL Morris is a business journalist and historian who reports regularly for TLR.

This reporter can be reached at Info@TheLocalReporter.press

Michelle Cassell is a seasoned reporter who has covered everything from crime to hurricanes and local politics to human interest over the course of 35 years. As managing editor, she hopes to encourage writers of a wide range of backgrounds and interests in TLR’s coverage of Southern Orange County news. 
This reporter can be reached at Info@TheLocalReporter.press

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1 Comment on "4 cars a day on average towed from Carr Mill despite signs warning that parking is for customers only"

  1. Randall Roden | June 7, 2024 at 9:12 am | Reply

    It is one thing to enforce towing, but there is no excuse for choosing an unethical company that won’t even follow the law to do it. There are other fine companies that can handle towing, but Barnes is terrible to everyone. Dangerous to the elderly and women to try to recover their car, and then they want all cash. Do better!

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