July 22, 2009

Private Parking

'Parking war' on Frederick Road driving away customers
Letter to the editor- Catonsville Times

Posted 7/22/09

I mean this from the bottom of my pocketbook -- never again will I spend one hard-earned dime at the eating establishments on the Frederick Road corridor.
Last Thursday turned what should have been a nice evening out with a couple of friends, patronizing businesses in what I consider my hometown, into an expensive and exhausting nightmare.
I was not aware of the parking war taking place over spaces on various off-street lots.
Although I have spent many a good dime at the Catonsville Gourmet, we had heard good things about the soft crabs at Ship's Café and decided to eat there.
There was no on-street parking available, and we had a handicapped adult with us, so I decided to park toward the back of the lot behind Catonsville Gourmet.
Yes, I saw signs about unauthorized or illegal parking.
But I genuinely did not think I was in violation because no sign stated that the lot was for Catonsville Gourmet patrons only. I was patronizing a local business so did not see anything unauthorized about it.
Yet, upon exiting the restaurant and (after) browsing around other businesses along the route, we headed back to my vehicle. But it was not where we left it.
Instead, a man wandered around the lot, cell phone in hand, calling a tow truck to come and get yet another unsuspecting patron of downtown Catonsville.
When I asked if he had my van towed away, he said he had.
The man further enlightened us to the "feud" among various eating establishments taking place over liquor licenses and parking.
So, bottom line, because of the short-sightedness of these business people along Frederick Road, once again the average worker, seeking an evening's respite and entertainment, is made to suffer the consequences.
After calling for a ride to the bank machine and then the impound yard, I am $260 poorer and infuriated that this town is allowing such nonsense.
Never again!
Connie Szczech

Connie -

I must ask, why, if you had a disabled person with you, would you have parked on a lot all of the way accross the street. Ship's Cafe has valet parking and would have taken your car right at their front door. Instead you chose to park in a spot that was reserved for someone that may have really needed to be close to the door. There are 15 Private Parking signs posted on the lot - 4 of them indicate "Parking for Strawberry Fields Only" and two of those list the specific businesses that the parking lot is intended for.

Somehow, I imagine that when you travel to down town Baltimore, to avoid patronizing your neighborhood businesses, you will avoid parking in a lot that has a similar warning posted. Be sure to tip the parking lot attendant in addition to the $7. hr parking fee.

The business owners in Catonsville do not park in your driveway to visit your neighbor and Catonsville's businesses deserve the same respect.
Sincerely, Craig

Business Owner's Must Protect their Property
Letter to the editor -Catonsville Times

In 1997, we invested in our first property on Frederick Road.
Shortly thereafter, we realized that if we were to focus on investing in properties along Frederick Road, others would follow and together we could make a difference that would revitalize the Catonsville Village.
We have invested our entire life savings, along with our hearts and souls, to realize this vision. So have our tenants.
While no one is more pleased with the current progress of our downtown area than we are, the addition of the new businesses have created a huge problem -- parking.
All of the tenants at Strawberry Fields chose to be here because we could offer parking for their customers and employees.
It is the responsibility of every property and business owner to manage their available parking.
Some businesses pay to rent spaces on other parking lots, only to find those spaces filled daily by employees of businesses that choose not to provide any parking.
This problem has been exacerbated because the county allowed several small, low-traffic businesses to expand greatly and increase their uses, without providing parking for the increased traffic.
When people park on private lots, they are stealing from the property owners and tenants, who pay the expenses to provide these lots.
We have done nothing but try to make Catonsville a better place.
For the last several months, we have gently asked people who park on our private lot and patronize other businesses not to park here.
When we try to stand up for our property rights, just a little bit, we have received threats of boycotts and violence by people who view it as our obligation to provide free parking for every business in this town.
Unfortunately, we have been placed in a position with which we are not very comfortable.
But we have to protect the integrity of our property rights and the interests of our tenants.
We have had to follow the lead of several other Catonsville property owners and hire a towing company to remove cars that are illegally parked on our lot.
This policy has been clearly posted on numerous signs displayed on the lot.
During the last few months, we hoped that people would park elsewhere when they saw the signs.
However, the warnings are still being largely ignored.
We would like to take this opportunity to ask that, when you visit businesses in Catonsville, please ask the owners what parking arrangements have been made for their customers.
It is my hope that business and property owners will be able to work together, along with Baltimore County, to solve this problem in a way that will make it convenient to visit Frederick Road.
Craig and Deborah Witzke
Witzke Properties owns the parking lot behind 821-833 Frederick Road and 9 and 11 Newburg Ave.


Anonymous said...

For Gods sake, JUST WALK!!!

Bill Dugan said...

Sorry, Mrs. Szczech, I've got to agree with Craig on this one. You ignored the plainly visible signs for valet parking in front of Ship's Cafe (and the attendant) to park in a privately owned lot across the street, and thus risked the consequences. They (the Catonsville Gourmet) have bought the land and made parking available to their customers, and have every right to enforce those rights, even if their name is not explicitly stated on the signs.

I agree that downtown Catonsville has a limited amount of parking, but instead of boycotting the businesses along Frederick Road, you might consider taking the matter up with the town government to reconsider their zoning policies.

Anonymous said...

I don't care who parks where, honestly. I haven't ever parked anywhere but on-street or valet, so this is all news to me.

Whatever feud you all are having amongst yourselves should stay amongst yourselves. The attitude displayed in this post isn't the attitude that I think you want your customers and neighbors to associate with you and your business.

This blog doesn't seem like the place to air your private grievances either. This isn't what's going on Catonsville, it's what's upsetting Craig, and that's for your a different venue.

Anonymous said...

Of course you don't care about parking. It is not your concern. Like air, no one thinks about it until it is in short supply.

I chose to post our letter to the editor on here because, this is a problem that affects many businesses in Catonsville. Not just ours. I wanted to explain the problem from a property owners perspective. Mrs. Szczech wrote her letter to the Times the same week that ours appeared. I chose to include her letter as a matter of balance.I believe that since this is a matter that directly concerns Strawberry Fields,this is the perfect place to explain the situation.
Thanks for your comments and as always, thanks for reading! Craig

Anonymous said...

user jalila says...
I am writing in response to the letter this past week about the "parking wars" and the letter justifying the hiring of towing companies by local businesses in Catonsville. When my son's car was towed recently from that lot while he was visiting downtown Catonsville, he had been followed by a man from Catonsville Gourmet to see what stores he was visiting. We were told afterward that cars would be towed if the driver was observed leaving the parking lot area to visit other businesses. I can understand that the parking is provided by those businesses at Strawberry Fields, but what if you are visiting multiple businesses in Catonsville, including those located at Strawberry Fields? I like to walk around downtown Catonsville and visit multiple stores at once and am not crazy about moving my car so I can walk from one store to another a block away. That's one of the joys of having a downtown area, and I do think this practice of having cars towed could hurt businesses. Why do they start with towing - couldn't there be ticketing as a warning? I also don't understand what towing cars has to do with liquor licenses, an excuse that was mentioned by the man calling the towing company. I thought the lack of a liquor license was related to the Catonsville Gourmet location close to a church. I see no reason to boycott stores or restaurants that didn't call the towing company, though. We're limiting our boycott to Catonsville Gourmet after our towing experience in that lot.

Anonymous said...

After they have been towed, everyone says that they were going to visit the a business on the property. Your son parked on the lot, left the property and returned to find his car missing, without ever visiting a business on the property. Was he going to drive to another lot, park there and then come back to shop at A.W.O.L. Skate shop?
We encourage people to visit a business on the property and then other stores no one has been towed for doing that.
As far as ticketing or other warnings, for one year we have left notes on peoples cars and have asked people to move. It has not worked.
As far as the comments about a liquor license - I don't understand what that has to do with anything. The Catonsville Gourmet is doing very well with its B.Y.O.B. policy and everyone seems to embrace it.
The parking lot is not monitored by the Catonsville Gourmet, but, by a represenatative of Strawberry Fields, which includes a number of businesses and residences. The businesses that pay for parking are listed on the sign. Craig

Anonymous said...

We all need to WORK TOGETHER to remedy the parking situation NOW!
It is this type of hostile behavior that literally drives people to strip centers and malls where there is ample,well lit,free parking. Is this really what we want? If everyone could just chill a bit and be nice maybe we will have a chance at attracting more folks to visit our wonderful little village.There are a lot of options if we put our heads together and encourage people to take a short walk but first we need step back and THINK LONG TERM EFFECT. What message do we want to send? a. we are a kind, welcoming community OR b. don't even think of parking here cause we will tow your a_ _? Don't sink your own ship! be well and be kind...

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Strawberry Fields management on this one. I do not expect guests to my home to park in my neighbor's parking pad unless I make arrangements for them to do so. I visit the businesses on Frederick Road because of what they have to offer and the quality of service not because I didn't respect their property and they did what they had a right to do.

Anonymous said...

Oops. My bad. In the previous post, I said "I visit the businesses on Frederick Road because of what they have to offer and the quality of service not because I didn't respect their property and they did what they had a right to do." I meant to say that "I choose whether or not to visit businesses on Frederick Road ..."
If I'm happy with the goods and services offered by the stores at Strawberry Fields or elsewhere on Frederick Road, I'll return. And, yes, be responsible and respectful about where I park.

Anonymous said...

I really don't understand what everyone is griping about regarding parking on Frederick Road. My husband and I have lived in Catonsville for years and visit downtown all the time. Sure, we don't always get to park right in front of the restaurant or business we're going to but we always seem to find a spot close by enough to where its not a real inconvenience. I've always appreciated the cheap meter parking (beats city prices by a mile) and a little extra exercise never hurt anyone.

I also agree with Craig that if you had a handicapped person with you you should have taken advantage of the valet parking - which I am sure you were very much aware of (the sign is very large and always out in the evening). I'm not sure if they charge or perhaps you wanted to avoid paying for a tip, but it really doesn't make much sense otherwise not to use it.

However, as a victim of towing myself I must say it is a bit extreme. In this economy $280+ is A LOT of money, plus the inconvenience of having to get your car, likely in a not so great neighborhood...I'd be a little ticked too. Notes on windsheilds are of course going to be ineffective...most people would simply discard, ignore or forget them. Tickets are less extreme but still get the point across. Might be worth giving it a shot before resorting to towing.

Finally, this fued kinda drives me nuts too. We love Catonsville Gourmet and do not patronize Ship's. Not so much because of their unfair treatment to other businesses (although that is part of it), mainly because of their outrageous prices and not-so-great service ($16 for a crab dip appetizer??? I hope you're using fresh MD crabmeat and not canned if you have the nerve to charge that much). If you don't want Gourmet then Jennings is a much better, friendlier and more reasonably priced alternative. If Ship's feels like they're losing business, it is not the fault of Gourmet. You can't be the only restautrant in town so just get over it.

Anonymous said...

Everyone forgets the free public lot behind Friendly's. It's a reasonable walk to The Catonsville Gourmet, Jennings Cafe and Sea Hut Inn.

Anonymous said...


While I understand your situation with the parking and you are "technically" on the right side of this issue, your attitude is less than appealing. You are a small business owner on Frederick Road who is trying to increase patronage to your restaurant and shops? right?? If so, why are you acting so rudely? I have been to Catonsville Gourmet numerous times and i have never had a problem parking behind the building. Do you really have to tow your neighbors and fellow Catonsvillians away? How can you honestly say that you want to see the revitalization of Catonsville and see it grow and prosper when you are so selfish. Your feud with Ships Cafe is less than appealing and honestly if I had to choose one, I would choose Ships because they don't seem to have the same outlook as you. And yes, you would expect to be towed if you parked in the wrong area down in Baltimore City, BUT, that is the difference, this is not Baltimore City, this is Catonsville, and you are supposed to feel like family here. It is supposed to be an inviting community, not one where sour middle age men feud publically about who's restaurant is better. Also, how do you know if someone has shopped or eaten at one of your places before taking a walk down Frederick Road or something?

Anonymous said...

Actually, as a third party who has no business interest in either Strawberry Fields or Ship's Cafe, I disagree with the previous poster about the owner of Strawberry Fields acting rudely. I think it is rude to park on private property and patronize another business. Just park on the street or walk as many other reasonable, rational posters have suggested.

Tess said...

Wow, this has been very informative. As a frequent flyer at The Gourmet, I have often parked my car there, run down to the bank, stopped at Cy's, and then run in to pick up my carry-out. Having spent my children's college fund on their delicious food- I would have been livid to find my car towed!! That said, I have to say Craig is right. Here's the bigger problem that everyone seems to ignore or cater to- the many obviously mentally ill people milling about on Fred. Rd. I don't feel safe walking around Catonsville's "quaint" shopping area- parking down at Friendly's and walking up to Ships can feel very lonely on a Sunday afternoon- even in daylight.I worry more for my children as they get older and want to increase their independence. Someone really needs to address this- seems that those who do are labeled as misinformed and heartless. These folks should not be considered harmless- action needs to be taken!

Anonymous said...

And then there are sometimes the large groups of unattended adolescents and pre-adolescents who harass residents patronizing businesses on Frederick Road.

Anonymous said...

NOONE has ever been towed from Strawberry Fields for visiting another business after patronizing a business here. We do encourage patrons to stroll AFTER they have visited one of the establishments located here.

The problem is that that people will park here, read the posted warning signs, immediatley leave the property for another establishment, then return to find their car has been towed. They then claim that after eating a meal elsewhere, they were going to patronize one of the shops that have closed for the evening or they get mad and swear they will no longer support any of the businesses that they weren't patronizing anyway.

The parking is provided and paid for by the proprietors of the businesses at Strawberry Fields, for your convenience when you are visiting their business.
Just because a person bought something at a store once or ate dinner here last week, does not grant that person free parking privileges carte blanche.

I don't like having to enforce this policy; however, it is my responsiblity, to my tenants and their customers to manage the parking situation. I have been asking people politely, leaving notes posting signs etc. for over a year. I am sorry that someone may think that I am rude, but please put yourself in my shoes. What would you do if people were stealing from your family constantly for over a year?

Also, I wish that Mrs. Szczech would not have labeled this as a a feud between two businesses. This is a problem that affects many property and business owners in Catonsville.


Tess said...

Sorry to beat a dead horse...but, who wants to "stroll' down Fred. Rd.?? i live within walking distance- would love to stroll- but I have never once been up there where I wasn't within close distance or approached by one of our wandering, mentally ill locals. It's scary and disturbing to our children and me.

Anonymous said...

I and plenty of my neighbors "stroll" down Frederick Road with no problems. Please, if you feel in danger, don't do it. I urge you: Move. Nobody should live in that much fear.

Tess said...

Folks like anonymous and their "just move" answer to people who want to make our town safer are part of the problem. Our neighborhood has become very active with the police dept.- ask the cops how safe our community is- they'll give you an earful.

Anonymous said...

So...what about leasing the old lumber yard from Mr. Bill and we can have plenty of parking! Or we can do nothing and just wait for the Promenade to open and all park there! ++++++++ The more people that are out walking the safer everyone will feel! Ditch your cars,walk a bit and enjoy all of the new flower pots!

Dan Iampieri said...

The property owner of Strawberry Fields has the right to tow cars from his parking lot if he has designated the lot as parking for the tenants of Strawberry Fields and unauthorized vehicles park there. End of story. No further explanation is even necessary from Mr.Witzke, but he has offered a fair and reasonable one anyway because he is a good and honest man.

The truth is that people going to Ship's and other area businesses try to park in the lot at Strawberry Fields. I've seen it firsthand as a patron of Gourmet. If I was Catonsville Gourmet I would not be happy, if I had a lease that included parking, if patrons of other area restaurants were taking the parking spaces designated for my customers. The landlord has a responsibility to his tenant(s) 1.) to clearly identify what businesses the parking spaces are designated for and 2.) to tow unauthorized vehicles from his parking lot.

Is this really a newsflash to anyone that you can get towed for parking in a lot that has signs marked that the parking is for authorized businesses only? The lot at Strawberry Fields is not a public parking lot!

-Dan Iampieri

On the Lighter Side!