On Wednesday, the council unanimously authorized the Downtown Marietta Development Authority to install the signs on the city-owned sidewalk along Anderson Street, around the corner from Johnnie MacCracken’s Pub a block from the Square.
The sign will warn motorists not to park in the private lot or run the high risk of being towed, said DMDA Chairman Tom Browning.
Browning said he ordered $700 worth of orange rectangle stands about 3 to 4 feet high that will be used to install the warning signs within 10 days. The money was funded by the DMDA.
Browning’s law firm, Browning & Smith, is at 31 Atlanta St., which he said gives him first-hand knowledge of the towing practices at the lot.
“Being across the street, I see what’s going on there,” Browning said.
The warning sign will not require any further enforcement and the city does not need a law to solve the problem, Browning said.
“Maybe we are better structured (than the City Council) to do something,” Browning said about the DMDA’s role.
When the council discussed the issue Aug. 28, Mayor Steve Tumlin warned about this type of public service announcement, asking if other non-towing businesses are accused of bad service, would there be more signs added to warn customers?
Profitable downtown towing business
Tumlin and various council members said they receive irate letters from visitors to the Square and customers of nearby businesses that claim they did not notice “no parking” signs and had to pay high fees after their vehicles were towed from the lot on the corner of Atlanta Street and Anderson Street.
Councilman Johnny Sinclair said the complaints have been an attempt to lobby the council to stop the “predatory” towing in one parking lot that appears to be luring motorists into private parking spaces.
Robert Tillman, who owns 27 Atlanta St., and the parking lot behind the building, told the council Wednesday the space is for his tenants and their customers.
Tillman said he does not want other people to park in the lot, except on Sundays when his renter Just Kiln’ Time, a pottery painting studio, is not open.
Tillman said he has lost two previous tenants over the parking lot being filled by random motorists who want free parking and will not pay the $5 charge in adjacent areas.
“We only have 23 spaces in that parking lot and everyone wants to park there,” Tillman said.
There are no banners or large signs placed by the city to direct motorists to two public parking decks, with approximately 800 spots, off Waddell Street north of the Cobb County Superior Court, Tillman said.
On Wednesday, the council discussed for the first time setting a maximum towing fee inside the Marietta city limits.
The discussion started out with a proposal supported by Councilman Grif Chalfant to cap the fee at $75. But the proposal ended up with a $125 maximum charge and no additional fees allowed within the first 24 hours after a vehicle is removed. This passed unanimously.
Storage fees would apply after the first day. The $125 maximum towing fee could be raised or lowered by the council in the future.
In December 2011, the council addressed similar complaints with Tillman’s lot when his family’s Crown Towing and Recovery company was booting cars and charging a $125 removal fee. The council capped the boot removal fee at $50.
Tillman said restrictions could hinder the “protection” Crown Towing provides for the property, which he said is monitored by cameras to spot violators.
Tillman’s son, Bret Tillman, who helps to manage the Atlanta Street parking lot, told the council the $75 limit would be too low to cover fuel costs and maintain his tow trucks.
Sinclair and Councilman Philip Goldstein expressed worries about limiting how a private business operates, as well as penalizing all towing services over an issue with one company.
Georgia state law on towing specifies that signs must be “clearly visible from each and every parking space.”
Bret Tillman said it would be too expensive to place a sign at each parking spot, similar to many of the parking lots across the street near the Marietta/Cobb Museum of Art.
Tumlin said the City Council is not a “lynch mob” and cannot make a law for one business to place a special notice.