Meeting gives food truck owners voice in ordinance creation process

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: December 3, 2019 | 12:30 p.m. 

Proposal would expand where food trucks can operate in county

PRINCE GEORGE – In what has been a months-long fact-finding mission, county planning staffers remain engaged in efforts to draft new regulations that could, if adopted, allow food truck operators to do business in more places in Prince George, with last month’s community engagement session serving as a key step in the ordinance development process.

The Kines Breakroom inside the county administrative office served as the host venue for the session, where members of the county’s planning department met with food truck owners both inside and outside Prince George’s borders to answer questions and receive feedback on what has been drafted over the course of the last several months, along with providing their individual perspectives as business owners.

The meeting comes months after supervisors asked the planning staff and the county’s planning commission to continue working on refreshed language regarding food truck operations in Prince George County, namely where the trucks can conduct business. Currently, food trucks can set up shop only in zoned M-1 and M-2 locations in the county where the property owner or designated agent provides written permission for their operation and “sufficient area” is to be set aside for the truck’s operations, “five temporary off-street parking spaces.” If the sales are done on the same lot with an existing use, such as in the parking lot of business, “the required minimum and most accessible parking spaces for the existing use shall not be used for prepared food and beverage sales.”

Additionally, the county’s ordinances lacks a specific definition for what a food truck is in the eyes of Prince George regulations.

In September, county supervisors vice-chairman Floyd Brown, Jr. voiced concern about the perception that the county’s current language is placing too many restrictions on food truck operators, resulting in them leaving to do business in other communities.

“We are saying we want to promote business then we turn around on the other end and make it so restrictive for our own residents that are trying to be in that profession,” Brown remarked.

Two months later, Brown joined fellow food truck and restaurant operators for last month’s community engagement session, where the latest version of the county’s draft ordinance was available for review and feedback, which, among other language, would allow the trucks to do business in B-1 General Business District-zoned locations and details regulations the businesses would have to abide by in order to operate in Prince George, broadening the locations where food trucks could set up shop.

One of the first things detailed in September’s report on food trucks by county planning staff was the lack of a firm definition of a food truck in the county’s ordinances. In the draft, the trucks, named “mobile food units” are defined as “a food establishment that is mounted on wheels, readily moveable from place to place at all times during operation, and shall not be limited to pushcarts, trailers, trucks, or vans,” adding, “The unit, all operations, and all equipment must be integral to and be within or attached to the unit.”

The language roughly melds together definitions presented by unnamed localities during September’s detailed report, which saw one jurisdiction define food trucks as “a food establishment that is designed to be readily moveable” to “a food establishment that is located in or upon a self-propelled vehicle licensed by the state department of motor vehicles, containing a mobile kitchen, where food and non-alcoholic beverages are stored, prepared, and served in individual portions to walk-up customers.”

As part of the draft document, a new section would be added to the county’s ordinance, if approved in its current form that details specific regulations for mobile food units. Among them, food trucks based in the county would, “in addition to zoning approvals for the sales location(s),” also need approval for their “base of operations,” which is defined as the location where “activities such as storage, loading, and garaging (regular overnight parking) take place.”

Operators would be required to obtain a zoning permit “for each sales location” before trucks could begin doing business at said location, with applications needing to have valid copies of Virginia Department of Health and business licenses, zoning approval for their base of operations if they are based out of Prince George, written permission of the property owner where the truck would conduct business, and a “site sketch” that “shows [the] proposed location of the unit on the lot, with setbacks and other illustrations as necessary” to reflect compliance with location and parking requirements.

Regarding location, food trucks, if passed, would have to operate “at least 15 feet from the edge of any driveway, utility box or vaults, handicapped ramp,” business entry or exit points, or fire hydrants and “at least 100 feet from any on-site residential dwelling or the main entrance of any existing on-site food establishment,” which includes both traditional brick-and-mortar restaurants and mobile food trucks.

Additionally, operators would be required to locate in such a manner that doesn’t impede or interfere with access or circulation of other parking lot users and they would not be able to occupy “any parking spaces required to fulfill the minimum requirements of the principal use or other business leasing those parking areas, during its hours of operation.”

Other regulations would see food trucks needing to provide “a minimum of five total off-street parking spaces” for the unit and their customers, at least one trash receptacle within ten feet of the unit for proper waste disposal, and trucks would be able to operate between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. “for a maximum for four hours per sales location during a single day, including packing and unpacking supplies and equipment.”

90 minutes into their three-hour engagement session with business owners, a number of food truck operators had already sat down with planning officials to offer their thoughts on the proposed regulations, with planning representative Tim Graves noting the information gleaned from other communities served as a starting-off point in crafting the county’s proposed food truck regulations.

“We used several different counties to, sort of, combine and have a starting point for this and try and look at everything and think about what makes sense for Prince George based on our current level of understanding,” he remarked. “From there, we are able to use the input we are getting from planning commissioners, board [of supervisors] members, and food truck owners we have met with to make modifications to what our understanding is and what our ordinance will be.”

According to Graves, feedback has come from food truck operators both within and outside the county’s borders.

“There are ones that have not operated in the county because they have not had a place where they have been allowed to do it yet so, the ordinance, as it is currently proposed, would open up a lot of new locations that people can go,” he detailed.

On hand for month’s session was vice-chair Brown of the county board of supervisors, who has been an active proponent for the updated regulations, saying the changes would allow the county to see more businesses operating in Prince George and reinforce a position of the county being open for business.

“I pushed hard for this because we were saying we want business here in the county but we were forcing our food truck vendors to go outside of Prince George, people who live here, and basically pay their taxes in other localities,” he said. “I am just a believer in, if we want to promote business and say this is the place where we want to see businesses thrive, we need to be fair to everyone across the board.”

Brown continued, “Not that we want to make it too easy, but we also don’t want to make it so disruptive that, if you wanted to open something up, we don’t want to make you wait weeks. I think we are going to come up with a good final product that will be fair to everyone and bring some more tax dollars in.”

Echoing Graves, Brown said sessions like the one held last month and public comments aid in the process of crafting these and other ordinances the county looks at.

“There are many different nuances, circumstances, and scenarios that, if you don’t get the input from the people out there who are doing it, all we are doing is sitting in a room trying to come up with an ordinance based on what we think is the best thing,” Brown remarked. “We can put some general things to it but, in certain situations I have heard, there were things we hadn’t even thought about that will need to be addressed.”

He added, “Plus, you get buy-in. With anything you do, when you get input, people feel that they have been heard.”

Tentatively, county planner Horace Wade said they are targeting next month for the completion of the ordinance amendment’s final draft in time for the planning commission’s December meeting. From there, save any unforeseen circumstances, the language could go head to public hearing at the planning commission in January and potentially presented before the board of supervisors in February 2020.

Even though the language is still being developed, in September, supervisors approved a planned unit development request from Baymont Inn and Proud Mama’s Kitchen’s request to operate a food truck on their property at the hotel. While the unit is slated to be a food truck, hotel operators said it would remain parked in their parking lot and not travel around the county, serving to augment and support Proud Mama’s brick-and-mortar location inside the hotel.

Copyright 2019 by Womack Publishing
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