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Parking Violations

Are Upper East Side garages taking unsuspecting customers for a ride?

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As gold-rush gotham attracts ever more people with ever more money, the city's ever-rising rents are dominating discussions from courthouse to cocktail circuit. And as more of those people pour into the city in cars, the real-estate battle is moving to a final, rather ridiculous frontier: Upper East Side parking garages.

Almost a million cars come into Manhattan every day, according to the Department of Transportation, and uptown parking attendants are finding it difficult to make room for all the Land Rovers and Lexuses in an area that doesn't have enough on-street parking to go around. Some employers, says one Upper East Side attendant who insisted on anonymity, are "pushing you to jam the cars in. If you're not putting enough cars in, they'll get rid of you." Other garages have decided to simply create more room to meet the demand -- by selling metered spots on the street as their own.

Captain Bob Cohen of the 19th Precinct confirms that he conducted an investigation into the street-parking scam last month: "We had a complaint that a parking garage was saying, 'Those are our spots, you can't park there,' and then selling them to motorists." "Those accusations are pretty preposterous," counters Tim Mustafaj, manager of Rapid Park Garages, which owns ten garages on the Upper East Side. "If the police are getting that kind of information, they should enforce the regulations."

That's just what Cohen is attempting to do -- sometimes surreptitiously. He sent undercover officers out in an unmarked car to check out the complaint -- and it wasn't the usual Crown Victoria. "You'd never mistake it for a police car," Cohen says, declining to describe the make. "We don't use it for patrol; we don't use it for the commanding officer to go to lunch in. We only use it for undercover operations." The car is so swank, he adds, "I'd probably get a date in it." No one, however, offered to sell the cops a spot.

Cohen notes that what might seem like a simple matter of garage gouging could lead to more serious crimes. "If I tried to park in a spot and some guy came out and said, 'You can't park there,' " he speculates, the police "would end up getting that as a call for a dispute in the street -- one guy's about to crown the other guy with a tire iron. People get into fistfights over things like this."


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