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Wal-Marts nationwide are known to welcome the traveling subculture and the money they spend. But as the Arizona Valley enters prime winter visitor season, boondockers are discovering that several cities ban the practice and neighbors protesting new Wal-Marts decry it as undesirable.
The Associated Press reported that experienced travelers check with Wal-Mart security before they settle in for the night and are careful to leave their space clean.
Delia Garcia, spokeswoman for Wal-Mart in Arizona, said the company welcomes overnight RV parking, but store managers are instructed to follow local laws. If someone parks in a city where it’s not allowed, store policy dictates that a manager should go out and inform the driver, she said.
In the Phoenix area, Gilbert, Glendale, Mesa and Scottsdale prohibit overnight parking in retail lots. Phoenix and Tempe allow it. Chandler’s municipal code allows overnight parking, but the practice is banned in some shopping centers as a condition of zoning.
The attraction to RVers is more than the free space. “Wal-Mart is more secure than most campgrounds. There are lights, security guards and cameras on the roof looking at you,” said Philip Klein, an RVer from Mears. Mich. “And when all you want to do is bed down for the night, there’s no sense paying for stuff you don’t use.”
Today’s RV travelers connect on Internet blogs where they share information on city parking laws and the nearest Wal-Marts.
Marshall Jack, an employee of the Arizona Cowboy RV Resort in east Mesa, said Wal-Mart’s catering to travelers has hurt the park industry and city tax revenues, and park owners nationwide push cities to ban overnight stays outside stores.
“It’s an ongoing battle,” he said.
For $24 a night, campers at Arizona Cowboy RV Resort get water, sewer and electricity. In parking lots, campers must be self-contained.
Chandler resident Beth Thompson complained to the city recently when she spotted an RV in the parking lot of a new Wal-Mart. That’s because the city banned overnight parking at that location as a condition of zoning, a compromise with neighbors.
Thompson also said it appeared the RV owners dumped a large quantity of wastewater and trash in the lot.
“It’s a health issue and a safety issue. Are they drifters or criminals? Who knows? We’re not even allowed to park overnight on the street in our neighborhood,” she said.