Valet service

M&W parking runs a valet service for several restaurants along High Street. (Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun / May 12, 2012)

Mention valet parking in Little Italy to Justin Duvall, and he'll rattle off stories of valet drivers clogging traffic, parking cars in residential spots and blocking off public spaces with cones.

"I've moved cones before," said Duvall, 29, a lifelong resident of the neighborhood. "If it's not their spot, if the street signs don't say 'No parking,' it's fair game."

In Little Italy, Fells Point and other city neighborhoods where restaurants and clubs commingle with houses and apartments, complaints about valet parking companies have grown common. The City Council now is considering new rules for those firms and, for the first time, making them answerable to the Baltimore City Parking Authority.

"It's so hard when you see certain restaurants taking over entire neighborhoods on certain nights of the week, or every night of the week," saidCouncilmanWilliam H. Cole IV, who represents much of downtown and South Baltimore. "It needs to be regulated."

Cole has introduced legislation that would require city valet companies to apply for a license and file a detailed plan for how their services would operate.

Tony Foreman takes issue with those requirements. Foreman, who co-owns three Harbor East restaurants with valet parking, called the bill "reactionary legislation" that is unneeded and would waste city resources.

"As much as I support the idea of the city trying to do things to be smart about the quality of life of its citizens, I think the city could use its resources a little more intelligently," he said. He says valet parkers that offer poor service won't last, regardless of city involvement.

About 100 valet services operate in the city, according to the parking authority.

The city agency, which supports the bill, now controls where valet services may set up. But it lacks the authority to require them to use off-street parking, carry insurance, prove their employees have valid driver's licenses or show that they follow established traffic patterns.

Tiffany James, special assistant to Parking Authority Director Peter Little, said the bill would give the authority "a little more leverage" over valets, while allowing them to continue to "marry the parking demand with off-street parking supply" — a valuable service, she said.

The legislation would require valet services to carry insurance, identify their off-street parking locations, renew their licenses yearly and meet specific criteria for loading areas, employees and drivers.

Neighborhood leaders say that leverage would help change what they call out-of-control practices.

Joanne Masopust, president of the Fells Point Community Organization, says some operations assume rights to parking spaces in Fells Point, often without the knowledge of the restaurants contracting them.

Council direction

The bill has been co-sponsored by Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Youngand every other council member except North Baltimore's Mary Pat Clarke, who said she is "favorably inclined" but wants to hear from the public.

The bill would give neighbors and community associations a role in determining who receives a license.

It also would establish a $500 fine for first-time violators and a $1,000 fine for each subsequent offense. Cole says the application fee has not yet been determined but would probably be less than $1,000.

Cole says the fees and fines are intended to cover administrative costs, not generate revenue, and are less onerous on businesses than those found in a similar bill introduced in 2008 that never gained momentum.

Young said the bill will help the city deal with unknown, irresponsible valet services "popping up" in residential areas.