The city of Windsor is beefing up its zoning rules over truck yards in an attempt to solve what appears a unique problem brought on by its border location and industry mandates like hours-of-service regulations.
It all stems from complaints associated with renegade truck yards that have sprung up around the city over the past decade. An enforcement blitz two years ago actually found 26 such yards storing vehicles from less than a dozen truck units up to 100.
The violations involved unpaved lots, dust, drainage, lighting, water pooling, and noise “where trucks and tractor-trailers were operating, being stored, or being parked,” according to a city report. All property owners received zoning violation orders and three charges laid for refusing to comply with an order. The yards were located throughout Windsor, but most were in industrial areas and some close to residential neighborhoods.
These were sites “that just kind of popped up overnight where there are just tractors and trailers parked on a piece of land,” Adam Szymczak, senior city planner and report author, said. “There’s absolutely no paving, no fencing, nothing. Some of them didn’t even have a curb cut so they were just driving off the property on to the street.”
The violations didn’t necessarily accord with size or location. They could have been relatively small yards. But “there’s dust and dirt and mud and smells causing problems,” especially of yards close to other businesses and residential neighborhoods, Szymczak said.
Rob Vani, the city’s manager of inspections and deputy chief building official, said the problems often were “unique” to the sites. While the most common complaint was dust, others had refrigeration units running 24/7, back-up beepers “at all hours of the night” and banging when trailers were hooked up to tractors. Badly lit yards meant light was thrown on to other properties. Others had “little regard” for the impact on street traffic. Drainage was also a concern with runoff into storm drains and open ditches.
Vani said many of the sites were located on former demolished industrial properties where the lots were still surrounded by fences. The properties often were owned by industrial landlords who rented space out to truckers.
“We try to work with the property owner as well as the operator,” in trying to resolve matters, Vani said. Most violations don’t reach the courts. Fines can be as high as $50,000.
A prime difference between the ad hoc yards and traditional legal terminals is that the traditional terminals have buildings on site, while the renegade lots do not. That in itself is a violation. However, in the future the city will allow such lots providing they meet proper zoning standards. A new bylaw is expected to be passed this spring.
“That was one of the things that came out of the study, maybe this is something that the industry needs – they don’t necessarily need a building,” Vani said.
The issue of temporary yards isn’t exclusive to Windsor. In his study, Szymczak found other problem areas along Hwy. 401 such as in Milton.
“But the difference there is that they’re in industrial areas, there isn’t that conflict of sensitive land uses,” he said. Windsor, a city of about 200,000, is older and relatively compact, especially in its industrial zones.
“Windsor being Windsor, industrial uses developed here over 100 years,” Szymczak said. For example, major factories, such as one of Ford Motor Company’s engine plants, are surrounded by family homes.
But according to city officials the prime reasons for the errant yards have been increasingly stringent industry driving standards as well as the city’s border location. The issue could worsen this June when the Canadian electronic logging device (ELD) mandate is passed.
As a result of hours-of-service regulations and increasing use of ELDs, “Windsor became kind of a natural stop,” Szymczak said. “This is where you do your six or seven hours of driving. You stop in Windsor, you park your trailer and tractor overnight and then you continue the next day be it into the States or wherever you are going, or the other way around.”
The other reason for stopping here is the border location. Windsor-Detroit is Canada’s busiest commercial crossing with $100 billion of yearly trade and one third of all trade between Canada and the U.S. Windsor is also midpoint on the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway System with an active shipping port.