For retired truck driver William Boyd, the fight against illegal parking was personal, and long.
The problem began in 2016 when a disused auto-wrecking site behind his property on Caledon’s Airport Road was turned into a parking lot by its new owner.
“It was not zoned for a trucking yard. It was only zoned for an auto-wrecking facility,” Boyd said.
“There were tractor trailers parked all hours of the day and night. That was when I got involved.”
Boyd took his case to the town council, seeking a resolution.
After about two years, the problem was “partially solved”, he said. No trucks are parked there now.
Other Caledon residents are not so lucky, though, as the town is virtually under siege from trucking companies squatting on public land. The problem has become so bad, the town has established a task force to fight these illegal trucking yards.
The Proactive Land Use Enforcement Task Force will cost Caledon $477,000 this year, and $620,000 annually after that.
“We are home to successful competitive logistics enterprises… Unfortunately, we’ve also attracted some bad actors, fly-by-night operators who set up shop, usually on agricultural zoned properties,” Mayor Allan Thompson said in an email.
“They carve out yards, compromising prime farmland with fill material that can contain toxins such as fuel, oil, and other hazardous substances.”
Thompson said the town had pursued legal action against several operators, but it was very difficult to keep up with the volume of complaints.
“I am hoping that the majority of operators will want to conform rather than face the prospect of expensive litigation,” the mayor said.
“Caledon is open for business to legitimate operators, but we won’t sacrifice the precious environmental, rural and agricultural character of our community.”
The new enforcement initiative will be implemented from this spring.
“The objective is to reduce the growing illegal land-use activity related to the parking, and storage of tractor trailers and commercial vehicles on private property in the Town of Caledon,” said David Arbuckle, general manager for strategic initiatives.
The town estimates that there are close to 100 illegal parking sites. Boyd puts the number as high as 300.
Brampton land crunch
Caledon, with a population of just under 75,000, is part of the Region of Peel, widely recognized as the trucking hub of Ontario.
“What is triggering this problem is the lack of (truck parking) space in Brampton,” said Boyd, who has driven trucks for more than 40 years.
Brampton, along with Caledon and Mississauga, make up Peel. People from Brampton have snapped up properties in Caledon in recent years amid a land crunch in that city.
“It is easier for them to come out here, buy a residential property and use it for parking. It is still close to the highways. That’s why they are moving to Caledon.”
Boyd said that a fine of $2,000 or $3,000 for someone with 15 trucks on their property is just accepted as a cost of doing business.
Not universally applied?
As Caledon toughens its position, members of the local South Asian community say the town’s bylaws are not universally applied, alleging that not all residents face the same level of scrutiny, or legal action.
Bharmjit Mand, who is in construction business, has lived in the town for three years. He becomes emotional when he talks about the way the laws are enforced.
In November, Mand said, he was slapped a $183,000 fine for parking trailers on his eight-acre property. He said the trailers were being used to store construction material by a contractor working on the location.
“We had a permit to put trailers there, but enforcement officers came and said, ‘You cannot do this.’”
The town soon sent him a notice informing of the fine, which he is fighting in courts.
He also said that the owner of one of the largest parking lots, with spaces for up to 1,000 trucks, was using a grandfather clause to lease spots, but Caledon is unable to take any action against him.
Mand said the town gave up after losing the first round in a court case.
“They pick and choose who they’re going to penalize,” he said.
The property owner could not be reached for comment, but the mayor said the town is well aware of issues such as these.
“That’s why in December 2019, as part of the 2020 budget, Town Council approved a program that will take a more proactive approach to bring illegal land uses related to the parking and storage of tractor-trailers and commercial vehicles into compliance,” Thompson wrote in a second email.
“This program will level the playing field and ensure that agricultural lands are being used as they are designated in our official plan and zoning polices.”
The mayor also stressed that, as of now, the town is providing enforcement services on a complaint basis.
“We have received dozens and dozens of complaints like these in recent years. Our enforcement team has been stretched to the maximum trying to keep up with this growing problem.”
Opinion is divided about the town’s approach. While some are frustrated with the trucking businesses, others blame the town for letting this happen in the first place.
“The majority of these yards are on ‘no-truck’ roads,” one resident identified as Kyle, wrote to Road Today. She said that properties with an acre or more of land are sold as soon as they are listed for sale.
“And within no time, it’s full of dump trucks, gravel haulers, or tractor-trailers.”
Another resident said Caledon had become a giant truck parking lot.
“Beautiful homes are being bought and converted into truck storage lots. The city needs to change thing quickly. Large fines for offenders,” said Cindy Areias.
Greg Moffatt, a longtime resident of Caledon, does not support the government initiative, however.
“The town has nothing better to do. This is just ridiculous. It is more political than actually economic,” Moffatt told Road Today.
“They (businesses) are not bothering anybody. The land is sitting there vacant anyway.”
Report by Abdul Latheef