Finding a parking space in Miami Beach can be no small feat.
And whether the lot or garage is public or private can be the difference between an $18 parking ticket or hundreds in towing fees.
Recently, a private parking lot at Lenox Avenue and 17th Street, leased and maintained by M&M Parking Management, has come under fire by local bloggers and media outlets for allegedly being overly confusing to parkers.
Part of the confusion may be because the private lot has parking meters that look the same as the city lot’s, however, they function differently.
The private meter asks for a license-plate number to be entered before payment is made, while the city meter doesn’t.
“If anything comes from this conversation: Please read all the signage in any place you park,” Miami Beach parking director Saul Frances said. “[People] should look for signage.”
Kris Conesa had to fork out about $240 to Tremont Towing in March when he parked in the private lot on 17th Street, thinking it was public like the lot across the street.
“My car was gone in 20 minutes,” said Conesa, who walked across Lenox Avenue to a pay a city meter to avoid a long line at the private lot.
Conesa said he didn’t realize he was in a private lot.
“By design, it’s made to look like the public lot across the street,” Conesa claimed.
Miami Beach spokeswoman Nannette Rodriguez advises motorists to “read the signs.”
She said the city lot “will have the city logo on it somewhere. That’s one way to know if you are in a public or private garage or lot.”
The lots and garages also may have city branding and a white “P” with a blue background, Frances said.
The side of the pay station will also have a sticker that says “Zone A or Zone B” for those who use the iPark system, according to Frances.
“Those are telltale signs,” Frances said, adding that some lots may say public parking on them, but if they don’t have the city logos, they are most likely private lots available for public use.
Frances said his department receives about one complaint a month about the lot on 17th Street.
And it’s not the only private lot that has drawn complaints.
He said a meter by Big Pink on Collins Avenue was once the subject of complaints, but that it has been about six to nine months since complaints have been made on that lot.
Frances said he is not sure whether they still have that meter or have moved on to another system.
A private garage located on West Avenue, between Ninth Street and 10th Street, also allegedly used to have confused motorists and have cars towed that didn’t comply with the garage’s regulations.
Frances stressed that he is not certain whether the garage still has the same issues, but he has not heard complaints about the garage in some time.
This past September, the Miami Beach City Commission passed an ordinance requiring signs to be posted in private lots and garages that state their status to help motorists differentiate the facilities from their public counterparts.
The lot at 17th Street and Lenox was in compliance with that ordinance, according to Frances.
Andrew Mirmelli, who supervises the lot, has posted additional signs on the property that spell out the lot rules.
Those lot rules include one that says not to pay the meter across the street.
“I am still in the process of coming up with additional language [for signs],” Mirmelli said.
Although Conesa questions the sincerity behind the additional signs — he says it’s due to the extra media attention on the lot — he said “it’s a step in the right direction.”