Truck parking in Abbotsford leads to big rig dilemma

Parking heavy haulers poses complex challenges, including land use issues, bylaw infractions and public controversy

Truck parking in Abbotsford leads to big rig dilemma

Trucks are an essential component of the economy. From gravel and groceries, to stereos and steel beams, virtually every item on a store shelf or construction site arrived there by truck.

Heavy haulers also carry some hefty issues – with one of the most complex occurring when the wheels stop turning.

Parking those big rigs can create challenges for operators, neighbours and municipalities. Trucks – whether based in Abbotsford or just passing through – need room to rest, and this is a region where space is increasingly regulated and in ever-short supply.

In Abbotsford, there were more than 5,000 registered big rigs in 2013, up from about 4,000 in 2009.

Where those trucks and their trailers park creates a multitude of issues – requiring the efforts of many parties to address.

Trucks continue to be parked illegally on agricultural land, creating environmental contamination concerns and animosity among those who respect city regulations  and expect them to be enforced.

While truckers are looking for convenient, affordable and secure parking, the concept of allowing trucks to park on residential property repeatedly meets with stiff opposition from neighbourhoods, while street parking of semi-trailer units in industrial areas has been banned due to safety concerns.

Abbotsford has seen an increase in commercial parking spaces in recent years, but for some truckers, space is either unavailable, inconvenient or unaffordable. For those looking to start legal truck parking facilities, city zoning or small profit margins can be deterrents.

These truck parking problems are common among Metro and Valley municipalities, and the provincial government acknowledges the need to look at solutions.

This city’s zoning bylaw allows a maximum of two commercial vehicles to be parked on an agricultural property – and only if the registered owner of at least one is the resident of the property and the rigs are not used for hauling solid waste, sewage, hazardous materials or dangerous goods.

Coun. Moe Gill, who has been involved with this issue since elected to council 18 years ago, said the city worked hard to allow for two trucks on agricultural land, but some operators continue to press for more.

The decision to allow two heavy rigs on both city-designated agricultural land and the provincial-designated Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) parcels in Abbotsford was viewed as an accessory to the principle use of the property for farming, and two tractor-trailer units would typically be accommodated on existing parking areas without a loss of farm land.

In 2014, 24 local ALR properties were in violation of commercial truck parking regulations.

In Abbotsford, bylaw enforcement is primarily driven by complaints from the public, generating response from the city’s seven bylaw officers, who are in charge of enforcing a multitude of city regulations.

Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun said the city is working to bring agricultural properties with various bylaw infractions into compliance. And he noted there are problems with a complaint-based bylaw enforcement system, as it pits neighbours against each other.

“I don’t want that to be the only mechanism by which we act as a city,” he said, adding that if bylaw staff are aware of an issue they should be able to deal with it proactively.

Until 2007, commercial truck parking was permitted in industrial and commercial areas of the city, but due to complaints and traffic safety concerns, it was phased out.

While most large transport operations have their own parking facilities, smaller operations or owner/operators often face the necessity of renting commercial space. When that’s not available, affordable or convenient, some truckers park on residential streets, which is prohibited.

Dan Dickey, a Chilliwack-based truck driver who runs the online forum BCTrucker.com, said the lack of parking is an issue all over the Lower Mainland.

He said neighbours often complain when truckers park their rigs at home, but suggested cities could create bylaws that only allow trucks in and out of residential areas during the day, between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m., to create less disturbance. However, he added that many people still wouldn’t want semis around.

“It’s a tough subject, and I understand both sides of it,” he said.

Trucks can contain thousands of dollars worth of personal items, radios, dash-cams and more, and drivers are worried about being broken into if their vehicles are in unsecured areas, he said. Secure commercial parking means they have to pay the fees, and while Dickey said the cost may not be prohibitive, it is just another expense for owner/operators on top of thousands in insurance and fuel.

The issue of truck parking has been on the city’s radar for some time.

In 2011, a task force created by then-mayor George Peary released a report on the issue of how to accommodate big rigs in the city. The idea of letting truck owners park in residential areas met with significant negative public feedback, as well as safety concerns for police and fire services.

Also finding little support was a proposed pilot project allowing long-haul truckers to park overnight on some industrial area roads. Councillors were concerned there were not enough bylaw officers to ensure drivers didn’t take advantage of the on-street parking.

Council did approve recommendations to fast-track applications for new truck parking facilities, and allow use of some gravel pits for the purpose.

Braun said there has been progress on providing parking, including an increase in industrial rezoning applications for legal lots, with more currently going through the rezoning process, but he acknowledges illegal parking remains a current concern.

Louise Yako, president and CEO of the BC Trucking Association, agrees that there is a lack of commercial parking available in the Lower Mainland and “the further east you go in the Fraser Valley, the worse the situation.”

She says the situation can be the result of municipal zoning decisions, as truck lots often generate lower property tax revenues.

And with little land available for industrial or light industrial purposes in many communities, property owners are often interested in investments that bring in a higher profit than parking lots.

The association takes the position that trucks should be parked in secure facilities designed for that purpose, but it also notes “there aren’t very many options available if you aren’t part of a large truck fleet.”

Chamber of Commerce executive director Allan Asaph said now is an opportune time for Abbotsford to allocate space to address commercial truck parking needs, as the city is currently developing a new official community plan (OCP), which outlines future development and land use.

Asaph added that if parking is far from where truckers live, there also have to be transportation options available to drivers to get to and from their rigs.

He said it’s important for a city plan to focus on what makes a strong business community and to “be more strategic about how to locate things so they work together.”

Last month, B.C. Minister of Transportation Todd Stone noted the serious shortage of parking and staging areas for trucks across the Lower Mainland, and announced that the province is aiming to establish new facilities. He said Victoria was exploring a number of potential locations south of the Fraser for short-term parking facilities between Abbotsford and Delta to improve efficiency and reduce congestion.

For Dickey, solving the problem of accommodating trucks is a necessity.

“If you’re not wanting trucks in your neighbourhood, quit buying stuff … Everything comes into the Lower Mainland by a truck.”

Illegal parking on agricultural land

In 2012, 407 tickets were written by city authorities specific to truck parking in city-designated agricultural zones, according to information obtained by The News under a Freedom of Information request.

In 2013, that number was 148.

In the provincially designated Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR),  30 properties were in violation of commercial vehicle parking regulations in 2013, and 92 related fines were issued. Six of those properties were repeat offenders.

In 2014, there were 24 ALR properties in violation and 58 related fines, with two repeat offenders.

The fine for unauthorized vehicles in agricultural zones or unauthorized parking is $250.

Currently, there are two non-farm use applications to allow for truck parking in Abbotsford awaiting review by the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC).

In May of last year, owners of a property on Mt. Lehman Road asked council to send their submission to the ALC for approval to use a two-acre portion of a five-acre parcel to continue to operate a farm equipment and truck/trailer repair business.

The city’s bylaw enforcement division has responded to 14 complaints since April 2008 regarding the unauthorized use of that property. In October 2012, a bylaw officer noted more than 34 trucks were parked on the property – instead of the allowed two. Also, several business licence infractions were recorded regarding unauthorized activities on the land.

Another property owner has requested similar approval to continue operating truck parking related to the owners’ transportation business. Bylaw enforcement had recorded 12 complaints since August 2006 regarding the property’s unauthorized use as truck parking.

Ultimately, council voted to forward the requests to the ALC for review, but with their suggestion to the commission that the proposals be denied.

(Above photo: Scenes like this are not uncommon in the Valley, as agricultural property is frequently used to park big rigs. City regulations allow two trucks per property.)