The Town Council unanimously approved a new towing ordinance Monday night designed to prevent predatory towing and increase accountability and enforcement from tow truck operators.
The new rules will require more signage around private lots downtown that lets drivers know they can be towed.
The council also voted to increase the tow fee to $125, up from $100, and place it on the town's fee schedule, so it can be reviewed each year. That vote was 6-3 with Council members Laurin Easthom, Penny Rich and Donna Bell dissenting.
According to the new ordinance, storage lots for towers cannot be located more than 15 miles from the site of the tow and must be secured and well-lit. Towers must provide a receipt for tows and must accept credit and debit cards at no extra cost. Towers must report each tow to the police before a vehicle is removed from a private lot.
Towers who violate the ordinance will be increasingly fined for each offense, up to $250 for the third violation. After repeated violations, the town may review and revoke the tower's business license.
Two tow company owners spoke against the proposed rules, saying they are too restrictive and could bankrupt small business owners.
Tom Stark, representing George King, of George's Towing, said the new rules are really an outpouring from lack of parking downtown.
Stark said George's Towing has made some personnel changes, which has reduced complaints. The ordinance overreaches, and makes it difficult for towers to stay in business, he said.
"We believe it goes beyond what Chapel Hill has the authority to do.
There are a number of problems .... what it really does is affect small businesses."
He defended King's surveillance and said it protects everybody.
"In every instance that you tow someone's car you have an unhappy person there and what they say about what happened is rarely accurate, which is part of the beauty of doing the video taping," he said.
Both the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Partnership supported the new ordinance.
Chamber President Aaron Nelson said his group always works to balance the interest of business owners downtown and visitors and property owners. George's Towing is a member of the chamber.
"The draft before you is an excellent one and we encourage you to take action tonight to support it," he said.
Council members largely agreed with the ordinance. Council member Gene Pease personally thanked Chief Chris Blue for working well with tow truck operators and property owners.
The new regulations take effect May 1.