Jack Garner drove to the Great American Outdoor Show at the Farm Show complex in Harrisburg Sunday morning and parked on Julia Street, because there are free parking spaces there.
At least the public spaces are supposed to be free.
But when he left the show Sunday afternoon, his 2006 sport utility vehicle was gone. A man collecting money for parking nearby told him his vehicle had been towed. The tow company wanted $300 to get his vehicle back.
“I couldn’t believe it. I knew I was parked on a city street,” said Garner, 64, of Hummelstown. “This is not my first year to park here. But it was my first year to get towed.”
Another man told PennLive he also parked on Julia Street Sunday morning, knowing it to be a city street, but then was asked to pay $20.
He challenged the parking attendant and called police. An officer showed up, who requested additional officers, and eventually a supervisor erroneously told the driver that the attendant could indeed charge for parking there. So the driver reluctantly handed over $20.
The confusion along Julia Street is not new. For years, there have been misunderstandings and parking schemes during popular events at the Farm Show complex, namely the annual Farm Show and the Great American Outdoor Show, when the main lots overflow. The Great American Outdoor Show started Feb. 1 and runs through Feb. 9.
That’s because the location is fantastic for parking, just across Maclay Street. But it’s also an unusual set-up, where the “shoulders” of the city street appears to belong to the adjoining warehouses.
PennLive documented some of these same issues on in 2017, when allegations arose of people collecting cash for parking spaces in the city’s right-of-way. A business owner even painted lines on the pavement and posted a series of handicapped spaces that weren’t created or authorized by the city. The painted lines and handicapped signs were never enforceable.
Years later, the lines and handicapped signs remain, along with new signs saying “No parking” and signs threatening to tow away unauthorized vehicles.
City Engineer Wayne Martin said they researched the block after receiving complaints from drivers several years ago. He said his office determined that the city owns a 50-foot clearance along Julia Street, which covers the entire paved area, right up to the brick buildings.
The large right-of-way continues south on Julia from Maclay to at least Delaware Street, where the city’s ownership shrinks to about 35 feet.
Police officials told local property owners three years ago that they could only charge visitors to park on their property, not in the street.
But apparently not everyone got the memo. Some properties recently have changed ownership, including the one responsible for towing away Garner’s vehicle.
Charles Farrell, of Lower Paxton, said he purchased the building in the 1000 block of Maclay Street about six months ago and wasn’t informed that the asphalt with marked spaces next to his building wasn’t his property.
The police supervisor confirmed on Sunday that his team could charge for parking, Farrell said. So when Farrell saw Garner’s vehicle parked next to his building and that had not paid, Farrell called the towing company “under the premise that the guy was on my property.”
Because of the concerns brought up Sunday, Farrell said he performed additional research Sunday night and found PennLive’s story from 2017.
“I didn’t do anything a reasonable person wouldn’t have done,” Farrell said. “But with the questions that have been raised, we’re not going to charge for those parking spaces (on Julia.)”
There are about seven public spaces on the west side of Julia, next to his building, most of which are erroneously marked with handicapped signs. Across the street, there are additional diagonal parking spaces next to a building owned by a different businessman.
When first contacted Monday by PennLive, Farrell said he was willing to work with the towing company to help Garner get his vehicle back. Later on Monday, Farrell paid $100 to the towing company to return the vehicle to the scene so Garner could get it.
The towing company, Leahy’s Towing, did not respond to questions from PennLive to justify the $300 fee that was going to be charged to Garner.
City officials confirmed Farrell had proper licenses to charge for parking on his property, which houses his entertainment business, but they confirmed that the spaces along Julia Street were not included because they are public spaces.
Garner said there was a sign posted with a parking fee on the abandoned building along the east side of Julia Monday morning, but he noticed the sign went missing Monday afternoon. A PennLive reporter parked there Monday and no one asked for payment.
The owner of that building tried to charge Garner $15 to park there last year, he said. But he had done his research. He showed the parking attendant emails from the city that confirmed it was public space.
“I took the time to investigate all this,” he said.
But those facts didn’t help him on Sunday because he showed up early and no one asked him for any money. He said he was disappointed that misunderstandings and confusing signage remain on Julia Street and that the police called to the scene Sunday weren’t better informed.
Garner waited two hours outside in the cold Sunday for an officer to respond to his complaint of being illegally towed. Then he simply got a police report number and the impound lot phone number.
When informed of the ongoing problems, Police Sgt. Kyle Gautsch said he asked for stepped-up patrols in the area Monday to initiate contact with the various people charging to park in private lots.
Mayor Eric Papenfuse said Monday that he was sorry that Garner and anyone else may have had a difficult experience on Julia Street.
“I will make sure the police understand that it is inappropriate for anyone to charge for parking there,” Papenfuse said. “I will have our team speak to the businesses (Tuesday.)”
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