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Swift Transportation plans truck terminal with nearly 200 spaces on U.S. 301 South
County amends zoning law so terminal can include maintenance shop for company’s trucks
Swift Transportation trucking terminal
Swift Transportation's new terminal space on U.S. Highway 301 south of Statesboro is so far just a huge concrete parking lot with some nice fencing and lighting. But the company plans to add a building that will include offices and training space, amenities such as showers and a laundry for the truck drivers and, in back, some truck bays for basic maintenance. (AL HACKLE/staff)

The site of a trucking terminal to be operated by national company Swift Transportation on U.S. Highway 301 south of Statesboro has already been paved, and was originally proposed to include spaces for 172 trailers or tractor-trailer rigs and 25 "bobtail" spaces for trucks without trailers attached.

Besides the truck spaces, 

50 standard parking spaces, in front, would be for regular passenger vehicles, especially those of office personnel, according to information received by James Pope, Bulloch County planning and development director. Other than the concrete pavement for parking and a fence surrounding most of it — a black, steel fence up front — so far there's only an area of bare ground for a future building to include an office and training area, driver's lounge with showers and perhaps a laundry, and truck maintenance bays in back.

Last week the Bulloch County Board of Commissioners amended the county's 2023 Zoning Ordinance to allow not just Swift but any trucking company that wants to build a terminal in a highway commercial, or HC, zone to do maintenance work for its own trucks. Swift Transportation Co. of Arizona LLC had purchased the land — almost 54 acres behind and beside Shea Tractor Company, the Kubota dealership — before the commissioners enacted an updated Zoning Ordinance last April. About 11 acres has been paved, "which is a lot of parking," Pope said in an interview.

Before the new ordinance was adopted, "freight trucking" facilities were a generally permitted land use in an HC zone. But the new ordinance made them conditional uses and also introduced some supplemental standards. In the process, maintenance was prohibited.

This was done so that a project approved as a freight trucking facility "would not come into a Highway Commercial zone and morph or change into something" else, such as a commercial maintenance shop open to all trucking companies or the public, Pope told the commissioners.

When Swift first proposed the project before the April 2023 zoning update, county officials understood that it was going to be "a drop yard, where they were just going to come in and swap drivers and have nothing necessarily permanent other than a parking lot," Pope told the Statesboro Herald.

But the company's plans evolved to include the building, he said, and meanwhile the new rules prohibited maintenance. However, some maintenance is a normal aspect of a trucking terminal, as county staff members agreed with Swift Transportation Co. of Arizona LLC and its local attorney, Steve Rushing of Statesboro. Rushing spoke on behalf of the company during the Feb. 6 county commissioners' meeting, which Tom Zylstra, senior project manager with Knight-Swift Transportation, also attended but without addressing the board.

"If you are not familiar with Swift Transportation Company of Arizona, they are one of the big ones," Rushing told the commissioners and public. "If you've been doing any traveling, you will see their trucks out on the road, and I've always noticed they are the best looking trucks that you see on the road, and that's not by accident."

Limited maintenance

He said the company's practice is to buy trucks with extended warranties and sell when warranty runs out.

"So during the warranty period they don't have any big repair work going on, on this site because it's all under warranty and would be off-site. …," Rushing said. "This is just for maintenance, tires, fuel, just to keep them going is what this facility would be doing."

The numbers of parking spaces noted above are from information Pope received with an initial sketch for the site. Rushing gave lower estimates of the number of trucks expected to be present at the site at any one time.

"If it was a special occasion, the most trucks you might would see would be around 75, on an average though probably 20 to 25 trailers, and then about 10 or 15 personal vehicles for the office personnel," Rushing told the commissioners.

The company gave the expected dimensions of the future terminal building as 90 feet by 265 feet, according to Pope. That's 23,850 square feet.

Pope and County Attorney Jeff Akins had prepared the Zoning Ordinance text amendment, which the appointed Planning and Zoning Board had voted forward with a unanimous recommendation for approval.

"This is just to maintain our own trucks and trailers, we don't do it for anyone else, and so I think the language that working with the county attorney and James came up with, I think that works to address these concerns … with some exceptions basically to the prohibition," Rushing said.

As amended, the ordinance prohibits "vehicle repairs or dismantling of vehicles owned or operated by any entity other than the property owner." Still speaking to the county officials, Rushing asked if Akins, the county attorney, would agree to add "or its related parties," or "or its affiliates," or a similar phrase Akins might suggest to cover Swift's related companies.

"Swift is a national, big company and they might have their truck titled under Swift Transportation or Swift Holdings, but they're all under the same penumbra of Swift Transportation of Arizona," Rushing said.

No last-minute change

However, County Manager Tom Couch questioned the timing of this last-minute request.

"Why are we requesting the change now at the dais?" Couch said, referring to the platform where the elected commissioners sit. "Couldn't this have been worked out before tonight?"

Noting that the language in the draft resolution had been worked out with the county staff, Rushing said he had not "picked up that it didn't cover our related entities" before the commission meeting.

One reason for adding more "supplemental standards for specific uses" in last year's Zoning Ordinance rewrite was to avoid imposing lists of conditions on specific projects and negotiating those with the Planning and Zoning Commission or the Board of Commissioners during their hearings, Couch and Pope had said.

"Well, if it's OK with Mr. Akins and Mr. Pope, I guess it's OK, but we performed a lot of due diligence during the zoning moratorium so we're not negotiating conditions at the bench or the dais, or in this case negotiating ordinance text language, which I think is even riskier," Couch said. 

Pope told the commissioners he thought the county planning staff was capable of working with the text of the amendment as written, recognizing subsidiaries or bona fide affiliates as part of larger companies.

"I think from an administration standpoint that we would have enough leeway in there to get by with what's been presented without saying, 'or a related entity,'" he said.

After hearing suggestions of postponing a decision to a later meeting, Chairman Roy Thompson urged the commissioners to settle the matter.

Rushing said the company would accept the amendment as written, and the commissioners unanimously approved it that way.

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