by MOSES LEOS III
On a recent Wednesday afternoon in April, about 15 tractor-trailers, some without a cab attached, were parked in the back lot of Cabela’s in Buda. An RV was also parked alongside the 18-wheelers.
One truck with the Walmart logo emblazoned on its sides, rolled by, its engine low and rumbling. The other rigs were mostly silent, with a few idling, perhaps because a driver was running the A/C in the 80-degree Texas spring.
Later that week at 8:30 p.m. Friday, about the same number of trucks were parked, though more activity was apparent as trucks from the interstate headed down Cabela’s Drive, finding a place among the vacant spots.
Jesse Cortinas was sitting in his big rig cab, the engine just loud enough to prevent conversation. He switched off the engine and got out to talk.
Cortinas is a regular at the Cabela’s lot; he drives up five nights a week from his hometown of Laredo to Buda with a full load of goods. Another driver coming down from Dallas meets him there and they swap trailers. Cortinas heads southwest with an empty trailer to turn around and make the trip all over again the next day. He’s been running this routine for months, always meeting in the Cabela’s parking lot.
But the days of commercial vehicles staging and standing in Buda parking lots will soon come to an end. At the April 2 city council meeting, members unanimously approved the motion to ban certain commercial vehicles from parking in lots around the city.
Cortinas wasn’t aware of the push in council to prohibit drivers from parking in that lot for extended periods of time. He also wasn’t sure where he and the other driver would park once the new rules take affect. He said he hopes there would be some signs or communication from the city or Cabela’s before cops start ticketing drivers.
The ban follows the template of an ordinance from Mesquite, which aims to relieve commercial vehicles being left for extended periods of time in parking lots.
Buda Mayor Todd Ruge said the issue came to light after he and other council members received a few complaints from constituents.
While Cabela’s has allowed trucks to park in their lot overnight, Ruge said the original intent was to have truck parking for store customers. But commercial vehicle drivers started using it as an overnight lot.
Buda’s Director of Planning Chance Sparks said the problem is that a parking lot could easily turn into a freight exchange facility.
“If unchecked, these parking lots can become de facto Freight Transportation Service facilities used for actual storage of trucks overnight, freight transfers and other similar businesses as a means for those businesses to avoid ground lease/purchase costs for an actual service yard,” he said.
The lot behind Cabela’s is not zoned for such activity, according to Sparks.
Sparks said he understands that commercial truck drivers are required to take mandatory rest periods in order to avert fatigue and overwork.
“There are not federal standards for where they stop – that is left to local government. Probably the most significant issue on the Cabela’s site is the lack of restroom and shower facilities,” he said.
Buda’s amendment to the existing parking ordinance defines a commercial vehicle as a “truck-trailer, road tractor, semi trailer, bus, truck, or trailer or any other commercial vehicle with a rated carrying capacity of two (2) tons or more.”
Most of the ordinance details are related to parking, standing or staging of a commercial vehicle in a public street, alley, residential or nonresidential-zoned area. The wording also addresses public safety concerns about fire danger, increased crime, overcrowding and litter.
Exemptions include commercial vehicles that are being used for street repair, public utility vehicles and buses that are unloading passengers. There are some additional exemptions, such as buses when passengers are attending an event.
Ruge said Cabela’s and the Microtel Hotel, which sits at the back of Cabela’s parking lot, did not approach council about the trucks. But he said representatives from both companies were in agreement with implementing the new ordinance.
The only concern, Ruge said, was the hotel does have truck drivers who stay at its property so those vehicles should be exempted from the rule, perhaps using some kind of parking tag or placard visible to code enforcement officials.
Sparks clarified that hotels would not be subject to penalty if a commercial vehicle is found to break the ordinance. Responsibility for acquiring the parking passes will rest solely with the private property owner.
The city also holds the right to exempt commercial vehicles parking in lots during special events. However, owners who are in possession of a commercial vehicle found to not be in compliance of this ordinance are subjected to a fine of $500.
Ruge wants to see communication and public outreach to drivers and trucking companies that use the lot before law enforcement begins writing tickets.
“Those drivers don’t live here, so how will they know about the ordinance? I envision that we definitely do education and outreach,” Ruge said. “Cabela’s is working on the signage.”
He couldn’t say for sure yet what kind of communication might be appropriate; handouts, face-to-face meetings or some kind of outreach to trucking firms could all be in the mix.
“There will be a learning curve,” Ruge said. “But I will be disappointed if what happens is our police or code officers just keep writing tickets.”
Kim Hilsenbeck contributed to this story.