Premium parking fuels dispute at American Tobacco

Feb. 27, 2013 @ 07:37 PM

A recent policy change for users of the city’s North Parking Garage has sparked complaints to city officials from some residents of the American Tobacco complex, and a defense of the move by the complex’s owners.

Residents of the Old Bull and Noell buildings on the American Tobacco campus received a Feb. 22 notice advising them that their parking rights in the deck were about to be restricted.

Once the new policy takes effect, apartment dwellers in the two buildings must limit their use of the deck between 7 a.m. and 6:30 p.m., Mondays through Fridays, lest they have to start paying the same $1-an-hour fee as other users.

The announcement sparked a complaint to Mayor Bill Bell and City Manager Tom Bonfield from Old Bull resident Amy Bastian. She said the policy is unfair to the residents, particularly those who can work from home or downtown.

Access to parking traditionally has been included in the apartment lease, and “having a secure parking garage to park our cars was a primary reason we chose to live here,” said Bastian. She added that the new fees would raise her family’s costs for living there by 30 percent.

Bastian isn’t the only unhappy resident. Bell asked Bonfield to look into the matter, and the city manager in turn secured an explanation from Michael Goodmon, vice president for real estate of Capitol Broadcasting Co.

Capitol developed American Tobacco and directly controls 1,015 of the North Parking Garage’s 1,320 spaces via a long-term lease from the city. A related management deal also gives it rights to operate the entire garage.

Goodmon attributed the policy change to the continuing development at American Tobacco, which now includes construction of the third Diamond View office building next to the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

He said officials and developers have long understood there isn’t enough parking to go around unless they enforce a “shared parking” strategy that makes spaces available to all the various constituencies at American Tobacco.

He added that allowing apartment residents to store vehicles in the garage all day “is not sustainable” or consistent with the shared-parking idea.

“Admittedly, this is all very hard and [a] very complicated thing to do,” Goodmon said in an email to Bonfield. “But we believe this is a very reasonable and diligent effort to allow flexibility but also incentivize residents not to store their cars in the parking decks.”

Goodmon acknowledged the complaints from residents and said Capitol won’t charge them for excess use of the deck until the lease of the apartment runs out or Jan. 1, 2014, whichever is sooner.

“Hopefully, this will provide some flexibility that allows those who the parking policy will not work for to make other arrangements,” he said.

Bonfield on Wednesday indicated that was good enough for him.

“Michael’s explanation, whether people like it or not, is the right one,” he said. “The parking decks, as more development takes place, are supposed to be multi-purpose, not storage facilities. If you say people can park without having to ever move their car, how would the parking system work?”

Bell said he asked Bonfield to look into the situation because he wanted to know what each side’s rights and responsibilities are at the deck. He declined Wednesday to say what he thinks about it.

“I just don’t have enough information” yet, Bell said.

The announced policy would give each apartment resident credit for 75 hours of daytime use of the garage a month, for which they won’t have to pay fees. Goodmon figures that translates into about 3½ hours of free parking on work days.

American Tobacco General Manager Rick Polley said the facility’s operators “empathize with the tenants’ concerns,” though their landlords are a separate company that acquired the Old Bull and Noell buildings from their original, Baltimore-based developer, Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse, after Struever went bust.

But it nonetheless “would be rare to find a major downtown that guarantees free, round-the-clock parking for residents,” Polley said, adding that shared parking allows for “more than 4,000 people to work here and 1.2 million visitors a year” to use the ballpark and the nearby Durham Performing Arts Center.