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Zombie Cars

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The Marketplace Garage is Burlington's most popular parking garage. You grab a ticket and there are supposed to be 378 short-term parking spots for drivers, like you, in a hurry. But it's clear some of these cars have been here awhile, with flat tires, cobwebs and missing license plates.

"Like how long has this been here?" Tony Naples wondered.

Nice cars abandoned in parking spaces meant for you.

"The car hasn't moved for over a year. It's just occupied that spot. It's a good spot, too," one driver noted.

Garage staffers estimate one Audi has been here for two years. They even washed it once so it wouldn't attract so much attention.

We asked the city why this OK.

"We found that there was no ordinance that allowed us to tow cars from the garages," Burlington Public Works Director Chapin Spencer said.

Meaning Burlington had no way to enforce its own daily parking rules at the Marketplace Garage. That annoys some paying customers.

"We want our tourists to come in here and see beautiful Burlington, not zombie cars," one driver said.

Public Works went on zombie patrol, sending out certified letters to the registered owners.

"We certainly want to get these cars out of there," Spencer said.

Six cars disappeared; four are still there.

"I wonder who they belong to," Naples said.

We wondered the same thing. After some digging, we connected the Audi to a Timothy Martin of Burlington.

A creepy Hyundai without plates is not stolen, but it's also not registered in Vermont.

And people had all sorts of crime theories about the BMW from Florida.

"We do have a big opiate problem here," one said. "Is it involved with that?"

It's a sadder story. We found the owner's obituary online. The 70-year-old died two years ago. But his son, Isaac Moon, is very much alive. And his car is abandoned here, too. In a strange twist, we recognized Moon from a 2014 news story. He was the first driver caught breaking Vermont's hands-free law. When we tracked him down on Facebook, Moon told us that after his dad's death, he couldn't let the car go. He was trying to maintain both of them but it got hard. So he parked them in the garage and checks on them weekly.

Reporter Jennifer Costa: They end up becoming your problem.

Chapin Spencer: That's right.

Spencer says these zombie cars are eyesores and they're costing the city money. But how much is anyone's guess. At the $10 daily rate, that's potentially a $3,120 bill for a year's stay. But with loopholes like unmanned tickets booths on Sundays and overnights, the city says there's a good chance these owners could drive away without paying anything.

"You know, it's a nuisance," Spencer said.

We found out the city is working on a fix, rewriting the parking rules. A mandatory public notice published in Seven Days explains the change:

"Should anybody out there still have a car in the garage, now is the time to remove it," Spencer warned.

Starting next month, zombie cars won't haunt this garage anymore. The city will have the power to tow them after 48 hours.

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