The commission recommended approval of a zoning ordinance to create a system to allow the trucks, which have grown in popularity across the country.
“I think this is a good way to dip our toe into the water to see what’s going to work for our community,” said Commissioner Natasha Sienitsky.
The commission initially reviewed the ordinance in January, and sent it back for several changes.
Staff rewrote the ordinance to prohibit the operation of food trucks in residential areas without a special use permit. In addition, trucks will not be allowed to operate within 100 feet of a home.
The city asked for input from more than 250 restaurant owners on the proposed ordinance, but only two responded. Despite that, the ordinance is written so that food trucks must be at least 30 feet away from restaurants.
“We’re just trying to watch out for the brick-and-mortar community,” said Reed Brodhead, the city’s zoning administrator. “This gives them a little barrier.”
Mayor Satyendra Huja said he did not support that restriction.
“In a democratic society, you’re supposed to be able to compete,” he said.
However, Commissioner Lisa Green said she could support an even greater distance between mobile trucks and restaurants.
“We pride ourselves on having great restaurants and we don’t want to see those go away,” she said.
Both the city and the Virginia Health Department will issue permits, and those from the city will need to be reviewed yearly.
Commissioner John Santoski asked how mobile food trucks would be prevented from becoming permanent fixtures at any location. Brodhead said the Virginia Department of Health requires trucks to return to a commissary every day to dump liquids and be cleaned.
One potential food truck operator spoke at the public hearing to say that staying in one place would be against her business plan.
“We’re a kitchen and we want to bring food to people in different spots all the time,” said Keely Haas, whose application to create a business called the Morsel Compass is in process. She said she hopes to be in operation by April.
Commissioner Kurt Keesecker said he supported the trucks, but wanted to know if Brodhead had considered noise that the trucks might generate.
Brodhead said trucks that need to generate power would be subject to the city’s noise ordinance.
Santoski also wanted property owners who give permission for food trucks to have some sort of written record, so the ordinance was adjusted.
“I can see there being some gray area and some disputes arising over who is ultimately responsible [for cleaning up],” Santoski said.
The vote to recommend approval of the ordinance was unanimous, though one commissioner had reservations.
“My major concerns are trash, noise and litter and I think the ordinance takes care of those, with the exception of the generator,” said Commission Chairwoman Genevieve Keller.
The ordinance will go before City Council later this spring.