Blame it on the boot

Temperatures rising, changes may be on the way in parking war

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Even with the blissful afternoon sunlight gleaming through the large windows fronting Main Street and the heady aroma of fresh-brewed coffee filling Postcards from Paris, the owners of the West End antique store knew they had a problem.

In an hour or so the sun would be down and they would lock the doors for the evening. And they knew by the time they opened their doors the next morning they’d have an angry phone call from someone whose car was booted overnight in the parking spots next to their multi-level store.

The problem is owners Meredith Kinsey and Linda McDougald didn’t order the boot placed. They don’t want boots placed. They are against booting. Even though their name is on the 20 parking spots outside their store, they lease the spots for eight hours a day.

The other hours are controlled by the parking lot’s owner, who boots illegally parked cars.

“It’s frustrating to us, but the owner of the parking lot makes that decision,” Kinsey explained. “And we respect that decision.”

The whole issue of parking and booting downtown has reached a boiling point in an unusually hot Greenville summer.

And it may take a new twist soon as the city tries to cajole lot owners to make their lots free at night. If booting problems continues, city officials say they may outlaw the practice.

Tony Harper, who owns the lot that Postcards leases, said he and other lot owners aren’t the problem. He said the problem resides with drivers who park illegally in lots on the weekend and leave behind beer bottles, cigarette butts and other junk. He hired a company to watch the lot after hours to make sure that won’t happen.

Greenville Wheel Lock boots the cars, which is legal under city law, but has come under a lot of fire in the last few months.

Michael Bryan, owner of Greenville Wheel Lock, said he doesn’t like to boot cars, but must do it because people park without paying. Bryan also manages five of the 20 or so private lots downtown.

“It’s aggravating because people won’t pay for parking,” he said.

And all of this mess is frustrating city officials who have been deluged with complaints since spring. The city has worked to make downtown an enjoyable and fun place to be, and many feel parking woes sully that reputation.

Motorists have complained for years of their cars being booted or towed when the parked in certain private lots because they didn’t know it wasn’t free. City Council passed a law in June ordering lots to clearly identify they were not free and if that was done then boots could be used.

As part of the law, the lot owners and/or managers had to buy $25 signs from the city that showed a cowboy boot and a warning of what might happen.

So far, Bryan is the only person charged with improper booting. He entered a not-guilty plea, but was fined $100 and ordered to repay nine drivers.

But Mayor Knox White said motorists are still complaining about booting all over downtown. They have said such things as they gave the lot manager $40 to remove a $35 boot and were told he didn’t have change.

Drivers also say they can’t find on-street parking and they don’t want to pay for a city garage or private lot. The city has more than 6,500 off-street spots in decks and garages, and makes two garages with a total of 1,700 spots on opposite ends of downtown free on weekends.

White said the city also managed to squeeze in 15 more free parking spots in the West End last week.

The city traffic department boots cars and trucks as well, but White said that is different because those are frequent offenders of city parking laws and have rung up huge parking fines.

While city officials haven’t officially discussed what to do next, White said he will try to get the owners of private lots to open their spaces at night for free.

He said two major downtown landowners have already agreed, but declined to name names.

If that doesn’t work, he said he would consider banning booting entirely.

However, lot owners who talked to The Greenville Journal appeared unwilling to meet the city’s demands.

Lydia Sawyer’s, who owns the property at the corner of Main and Broad, scoffed “I don’t think so” when told about the potential city plan.

Sawyer’s family has owned the lot across the street from the 10-story City Hall since the turn of the century. She remembers watching parades from the window of her grandfather’s building, which was destroyed accidentally by Duke Power in the 1930s.

She thinks the city is just looking for a handout.

She charges $5 for people to park for Peace Center events, which she said is important for downtown. She said if she didn’t charge then bar hoppers would take the spots, leaving theater patrons walking blocks.

“I don’t like booting, I really don’t,” Sawyer said. “But if we don’t, partiers swarm it.”

Harper also said he didn’t want to turn over his lot, but he is trying to curb the need for booting.

Bryan installed pay boxes earlier this week that he hopes will curb the need for the boot, which costs $35 to remove.

The idea is a person pulls into a space, puts money and a description of the car they parked in the assigned box and then walks away. When the attendant comes by, the collect-the money.

If there’s no money, there’s a boot, Bryan said.

He said booting is a better option than towing a car away, which leaves a person stuck in a parking lot without a car.

“If the city takes away booting, we will have to tow,” Bryan said. “People will appreciate the boot then.”

This is why White said he hasn’t officially brought up the idea of banning the boot to the other six council members.

“As long as there is a profit, they will find ways around any ordinance we pass,” he said.

Which causes continued headaches for business owners such as Kinsey and McDougald.

“People tell us we’re a landmark in the West End,” McDougald said. “It’s frustrating to us.”

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