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SMITHFIELD — Town council members on June 4 tabled a recommendation from the planning department that it revise the town’s ordinance regarding food trucks.
Food trucks are currently only permitted in the Business 3 zoning district. Town Planning Director Stephen Wensman said a recent request for a temporary permit in the Office/Industrial district was denied because it included a request for a food truck.
“Soon after denial, the planning staff learned that the Parks and Recreation Department routinely has food trucks or Slushee trucks operation in town parks, in the Office/Industrial district,” said Wensman. “Food trucks have also been in the Business 1 and Business 2 districts with various events such as the Ham and Yam Festival and some town council-approved special events.”
Wensman said this caused the planning department to review the food truck regulations and request an amendment to the Table of Uses to allow food trucks in all commercial districts.
Outside of temporary events and the Brightleaf Flea Market, Wensman said the only food truck operating in town is at the Carolina Premium Outlets in a Business 3 District. Another food truck is proposed in West Smithfield, also in the Business 3 District.
“We discovered that our ordinance is not in line with how we’ve been using food trucks,” said Wenson. “Allowing food trucks in Office/Industrial districts in addition to Business 3 would be a simple change. It would make it easier to monitor and provide opportunity for seasonal food trucks in some locations.”
“We need to consider the location of food trucks to restaurants, they can’t be within100 feet during restaurant hours,” said Mayor Pro-tem Travis Scott. “We also need a discussion about food trucks that sell beer and wine. We didn’t get clarification about that.”
Mayor Andy Moore expressed concern about the flea market.
“I’m concerned because you keep bringing up the flea market as a separate category,” said Moore. “Over the last three months, my phone’s ringing off hook about flea market. People at church are hitting me up about flea market.”
“We’re trying to work with the flea market owner to bring them in compliance,” said Wensman. “It seems to be an ongoing operation that doesn’t seem to be causing problems. We want to control where they are, limit the number of trucks at the flea market. The whole flea market is an issue right now.”
“Who decides whether or not food truck is acceptable in certain sections of town?” asked Councilman David Barbour. “Who makes the decision as to where park to trucks? We don’t want them competing head to head with restaurants.”
“Food truck operators need a willing business partner,” said Wensman. “We’ve only had two requests in three years for food trucks at a business location. Most food trucks are for special events and the flea market. Parks and Recreation decides where they go.”
No one in the audience spoke during the public hearing.
“It could be a challenge to stick and mortar restaurants,” said Scott. “We need to ask council to put a distance from a place of worship regarding alcohol. I’m concerned with mass gatherings, we need to be careful about the congestion food trucks cause.”
“Could we require approval regarding alcohol before approving food trucks?” said Barbour. “North Carolina allows it to be done, I know that’s a possibility. Is there a way we can put it a special-use permit, approved before they can do that kind of activity?”
Barbour said when an applicant seeks a special-use permit, it’s reasonable to require them to have security if food trucks are selling beer and wine.
“I’ve seen it at other events, with police presence,” said Barbour. “I think we could handle it through security.”
Barbour agreed with Scott that food trucks sellng alcohol would be offensive to people who are worshiping if they’re too close to churches.
Scott moved that the matter be tabled until the July 9 meeting so the planning department can address the alcohol issue. The vote was unanimous.