By J.W. Schnarr
Truckers who live or stop in Vauxhall could see some relief for their parking woes with some anticipated changes to local land use designations.
During their regular meeting on Feb. 2, council discussed the parking issue with Oldman River Regional Services Commission planner Bonnie Brunner and Vauxhall community peace officer Jason Schreiber. The issue is an old thorn in the side of many Vauxhall residents.
Schreiber said truck parking has been a problem since before he began working in Vauxhall in 2012, and is due in part to the limited space available to park on First Street. At the time, Schreiber was instructed to inform drivers they were allowed to park on First Street but not First Avenue.
“I was under the impression at that time that the entire stretch of empty lots belonged to the town,” he said.
Following further discussion with administration, however, Schreiber learned the first empty lot is owned by a private entity and the rest is owned by the town. He said his parking notices were changed to reflect the new information – until he was informed by the previous Chief Administrative Officer that only those drivers on a list held by administration had permission to park there.
“Apparently, if you put your name on the list, you got to park there, and that was fine,” he said.
Unfortunately, Schreiber says numerous requests for a copy of the list were turned down.
“Further down the road, there were more discussions, and I learned that (area) is not zoned as a parking lot. So this added another factor.”
Schreiber said when he started issuing notices for drivers to remove their vehicles, there was a lot of anger towards him from drivers who had previously received permission to park in the area. Schreiber told them while the drivers may have been on a list, Schreiber had never seen that list and had to go solely on what the bylaw states.
To make matters worse, the road is becoming congested with parked vehicles, and drivers have begun detaching their semi trailers when they park, a move in clear violation of both the Traffic Safety Act and town bylaws.
“Some of them had permission, and they are very upset if they have to move,” he said. “Others haven’t parked there because they were told they weren’t allowed to. They’re wondering where they can park.”
Brunner said the issue with the land is that the property in the area is zoned as industrial, which does not allow for parking lots.
“It allows for a lot of things, but not parking lots, and not truck stops either,” she said. “The idea being the industrial district is intended to accommodate industrial commerce and business.”
Brunner said the only district in the Land Use Bylaw which allows for parking lots is the retail commercial district.
“That’s intended to allow off-street parking to accommodate businesses and other things in the downtown area,” she said. Further, an update to the bylaw in 2009 did not include parking issues, and consequently no changes were made to parking.
Given the long, narrow shape of the property in question, Brunner said the land would not make for an ideal truck parking area. She suggested an alternative would be to make amendments to the bylaw by adding parking allowances to a number of district definitions within the bylaw, including highway commercial, industrial, and public institutional designations.
“That would expand the areas within which the municipality could consider parking,” she said. “Even if it was for regular passenger vehicles.
Another option would be to redesignate the land as highway commercial, but that process would entail at least a phase one environmental site assessment.
“In rezoning it could be a benefit to the properties to the north, because we could create a bit of a buffer between hardcore industrial uses and highway commercial.”
Brunner said the main issues involved in creating a parking area for big trucks would include possible nuisance issues for vehicles idling all night near residential zones, as well as disruptions in the flow of traffic and access requirements.
Finally, Brunner said the goals of the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan would have to be considered for any development in the area, specifically minimizing land use conflict adjacent to industrial development.
“We have to think about whether the decision being made is able to be mitigated,” she said.
“Something has to be done,” said Coun. Linda English. “You can’t just tell them not to park anywhere. You need those trucks for your businesses.”
Schreiber said he would enforce the will of council regardless of their decision.
“It’s not the town’s responsibility to provide parking for people in town with heavy trucks,” he said.
Coun. Martin Kondor said the area used to be a parking lot when there were grain elevators in the area.
“Everybody pulled in there at night to park, waiting for the elevators to open,” he said. “They’d leave their trucks running all night.”
“It’s not like it’s unusual for people to park there,” he said, adding his best guess was that it happened for about 50 years while the elevator was in operation.
Deputy Mayor Richard Phillips said making amendments to the Land Use Bylaw seemed the simplest way to deal with the issue.
Schreiber suggested the town providing a waiver to drivers to absolve them of any responsibility for the vehicles.
The town could then look at a permit option down the road.
CAO Cris Burns said in charging drivers for the right to park there, the town may need to maintain the premises.
“If you’re going to charge them, they are going to expect a level of service,” he said.
Following discussion, council directed Brunner to create a bylaw to amend the Land Use Bylaw for council’s consideration.