Car trouble: Parker can't park without parts

What does a guy have to do to keep his downtown office going? Apparently, make sure its engine runs.

Office? Engine? Huh?

It all makes sense if you're Anson Parker, subject of a story in last week's Hook and founder of Treebay, a new organization that takes donations of people's stuff, sells it on Ebay, and uses a portion of the proceeds to promote energy alternatives in Charlottesville. His office: an aging purple and yellow cab parked in the Design Center parking lot on Second and Garrett streets.

But although his business goals may be admirable, some neighboring businesses have objected to his methods– which include storing his work-related belongings in the cab and pedaling an adjacent stationary bike to power his laptop and cell phone. Now the city has given him an ultimatum: Get the cab running or watch it be towed.

In fact, the city has already towed the cab once– on Thursday, July 8 because it lacked license plates. But after Parker made a last minute dash to the DMV, the city returned his cab to its spot and covered the towing expense.

Parker thought the issue was settled, particularly since he and his cab have the blessing of Alana Woerpel, owner of Alana's fabric store and the parking lot. But the city's chief building inspector, Jerry Tomlin, says there was one important fact he didn't know when Parker's office was returned.

"We didn't know it didn't run," he says of the cab, "or we wouldn't have sent it back."

Tomlin says keeping an inoperable vehicle anywhere in the city– even on private property– is a violation of city code, section 5-150.

The ordinance, which makes such a violation a class-one misdemeanor with a possible $2,500 fine, is designed to keep the city free of auto-eyesores, says Tomlin. "A lot of cities have cars jacked up in the street," he says, so since 1978 Charlottesville's ordinance has required that such cars be stored in a garage or other covered shelter.

Fortunately for violators, the city generally does not press charges. Instead, Tomlin says, the city impounds the vehicle and charges the owner storage fees until necessary repairs are scheduled to be performed.

Parker's hoping to avoid having his office impounded again.

The city notified him by letter that he had until July 23 to get his cab streetworthy– a challenge, since he allowed the former owner to "chop shop" the engine, picking out parts he needed for his other cars.

"I didn't think I was going to need those parts," says Parker.

Now, like his last minute DMV dash, Parker is scrambling to find the missing pieces.

"My whole purpose is to get that thing to turn on," he says.

Some of his neighbors may not be rooting for him.

A receptionist at Moxie declined comment when asked about their colorful, pedaling neighbor, and several other area store owners did not return calls.

But Pamela Peterson, owner of Sammy Snacks, a dog food biz across Garrett Street, offered a clue about why Parker's neighbors are upset.

"We work so hard to keep a nice looking space, to be attractive to customers," she explains. "A big rock in the middle of [the cab's] hood doesn't give quite the right message."

That said, Peterson calls Parker "a very, very nice person," and says his "goals are commendable." But to her, it's all in the execution.

"I don't know that he's taking the right approach," she says.


*Epilogue: At presstime, Parker called to report he'd discovered a loophole in the law. If he covers the cab with a tarp, he says, the cab will be legal. The city's Jerry Tomlin says the cab must be "fully screened." That means if even an inch of tire is peeking out, the cab can still be towed.

Parker also reports relations with his neighbors have improved.

Anson Parker must get his cab/office running, or the city will impound it.