Councilman Grif Chalfant said each week he receives an irate letter from a visitor to Marietta complaining about their car disappearing. Once the owners recover the vehicle from an impound lot, they vow never to come back to the city, he said.
“It is terrible for our city’s reputation,” Chalfant said.
Chalfant said that when people park in the small lots off side streets around the Square, they do not thoroughly check the signs or realize how quickly their car can be taken away.
“They don’t get out of their car thinking about reading every sign in a lot,” Chalfant said.
Georgia state law on towing specifies that signs must be placed at the entrance to a private parking lot, or in the area where parking is prohibited, and be “clearly visible from each and every parking space.”
Chalfant said he will push the council to change the city ordinance at tonight’s meeting so that the “predatory” towing companies cannot continue to discourage people wanting to do business in Marietta.
Instead of the $400 to $500 in charges it costs to retrieve a car across town, Chalfant said he wants to ban all immediate towing within the city and instead have a warning system that starts with a ticket.
“(A $50 fine) it is not as serious as taking all night getting your car back,” Chalfant said.
Chalfant said the issue with parking downtown is not lack of space, but the high price of parking.
The perimeter of Glover Park is lined with two-hour public parking slots that are constantly filled as people drive around in circles trying to spot the tail lights of a car about to back out of a spot.
Many travelers to Marietta are not aware of the two parking decks, with approximately 800 spots, off Waddell Street north of the Cobb County Superior Court, or their $5 charge.
Bette Andrews, who has worked at the courthouse 40 years, said even county employees must pay $9.50 every two weeks to use the parking garage and she knows some coworkers try to get around the fee by finding other areas to stash their vehicles.
There are other reserved lots on the corner of Waddell Street and Anderson Street with more than 100 spots. These parking areas have attendants in wooden shacks or sitting on folding chairs under umbrellas that charge a flat rate of $5 to use the vacant lots.
Joe Lyle of Marietta, who has worked as a parking lot attendant for more than a year, said most of the customers are regulars going to the courthouse. He added some “first-timers” will drive around the area two or three times trying to find a free option before deciding to pay.
City misses out on lunch crowd
For the paid lots, the $5 fee is collected as soon as a customer pulls in, meaning the charge does not vary if a person is parking for 30 minutes or 10 hours.
Although he works less than 2 miles from the Square at Lockheed Martin, Lee Bowling said he only comes downtown for lunch once a month.
Between the limited parking on the street, the $5 minimum parking charge for an hour lunch or taking the chance of his car being towed from a private lot, Bowling said he often goes to Smyrna to eat out.
“It is definitely inconvenient to park here,” said Bowling. “I don’t know how these small, mom-and-pop places stay open when there is no access.”
Bowling suggests the city start a free trolley service to run from a parking lot outside the downtown area into the Square during the midday rush.
On Tuesday morning, Melanie Moore of Woodstock and her 3-year-old daughter, Jaclyn, parked in the employee lot while visiting the Marietta Museum of Art at 30 Atlanta St. because the 15 public spaces next door were taken. Other spots surrounding the museum are reserved for the many law firms in the area.
“It is kind of challenging to walk several blocks with a toddler,” Moore said.
The last time she was downtown to go to the Marietta Museum of History, Moore said she had to move her car to a different slot before having lunch on the Square due to the two-hour limit on free parking.
Bad for business
Chalfant said the battle over towing practices has been waged for three to four years, with a public outcry over the parking lot around the corner from Johnnie MacCracken’s Pub at 15 Atlanta St.
Stacy Tillman, the owner of Marietta-based Crown Towing and Recovery, is contracted to remove illegally parked cars on this site and take them to the company’s impound at 503 Commerce Park Drive, east of Fairground Street between the 120 Loop and South Cobb Drive.
Before opening the tow company, Tillman was booting vehicles and charging $125 for removal, until the City Council capped that fee at $50 in December 2011.
Towing and storage firms must be issued a permit by the state and further regulated by the city in which they operate. The Marietta city code states that an attendant must be on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week at the impound.
The operating hours for Crown Towing is 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. If a car owner calls the posted number after hours, Tillman said she tries to get someone out to the storage lot for an additional charge, but if that is not possible, the owner would have to wait until morning.
Carl Knight, who started his Big Tow company in Marietta 38 years ago, said aggressively towing patrons of Marietta and monitoring a parking lot in hopes of catching a violator “is so borderline illegal, and something I would never do.”
Knight said he does not receive many complaints about the way his towing business operates, which is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and charges a minimum of $125 to retrieve a towed vehicle.
Knight said the busiest times for his two tow trucks are when there is a free event on the Square and people knowingly park in the Starbucks and Walgreens lots on the corner of Whitlock Avenue and the 120 Loop.
It is unclear to visitors that the large county parking garages across the Square is free in the evenings and on weekends, said Knight.
Knight said he uses his own money to make sure the parking lots he services are well marked to help the downtown businesses and not take money off tourists without a reason.