The Flagstaff City Council is working on a plan that would allow RVs and possibly camping trailers to stay overnight in the parking lots of large commercial businesses.
Mayor Jerry Nabours brought up the idea at Tuesday night’s council work session. The current city ordinance prohibits overnight camping of any kind in business parking lots, even with the permission of the property owner.
Nabours said he spoke with the managers of both Walmart stores. Both managers said that Walmart allows people to park overnight in its lots as long as local ordinances and the store manager allow it.
Nabours said the manager of the Walmart on Huntington Drive told him he would be open to the idea of overnight parking because he didn’t share his parking lot with another business. The manager of the Walmart on Woodlands Village Boulevard might not be as open since that store shares a lot with several other businesses and didn’t own the parking lot outright.
City Planning Director Dan Folke said city staff was looking for some direction on the issue. The current city ordinance was vague. It prohibited “overnight camping.”
But where do you draw the line between parking for a few hours to catch some sleep and camping, Folke asked. It’s also silent about overnight camping in other zones, such as residential. Some other problems police officers have run into while enforcing the ordinance are trying to figure out who to cite for the violation — the property owner or the camper.
Deputy Police Chief Walter Miller said overnight camping in parking lots really hasn’t been much of a problem for the department. Officers are usually only sent out there when a complaint has been filled, he said. Most of the complaints have been driven by business owners who don’t want people camping overnight in their parking lot.
In most cases, the person driving the RV has just stopped to catch a few hours of sleep and moves along when they’re rested, Miller said.
Folke said that if council approved overnight parking, there could be some other issues. For example, people trying to escape the heat of Phoenix or Tucson could turn parking lots into impromptu campgrounds. Sanitation could be a problem if the RVs didn’t have a spot to dump waste. And there was a possible loss in income to the RV campgrounds that already exist in the city, he said.
Nabours and Councilmembers Jeff Oravits and Scott Overton were in favor of changing the ordinance. They said they had no problem with leaving it up to a property owner to decide if they wanted overnight parking on their lot.
Coral Evans and Celia Barotz agreed but raised concerns about absentee property owners who were unaware that someone had been camping in their lot for the last three months.
“What happens when the property owner is not available?” Evans asked. “We have a hard time tracking down some property owners in this town. If an owner can’t be found, does the person just get to camp there?”
Barotz also pointed out that there are some areas of town that are commercially zoned but not appropriate to overnight parking, especially commercial areas that are surrounded by homes.
Folke said the city would likely allow a person to continue to stay there until a property owner could be reached.
Oravits suggested a time limit.
Folke pointed out that a time limit could be hard to enforce and asked who would be responsible for enforcing it.
Councilmember Mark Woodson suggested a permitting process so the city would know how to contact a property owner.
Evans said the permit could be free and all a property owner would have to do is tell the city if they wanted to allow overnight parking on their lot or not.
Folke said staff would work on the issue and bring back possible changes to the ordinance to the council in March.
Suzanne Adams-Ockrassa can be reached at email@example.com or 556-2253.