Food truck policy recommendations get airing at Williamsburg Planning Commission

rarriaza@vagazette.com

As Williamsburg officials grapple with determining the best practices for allowing food trucks to operate in the city, Interim City Manager Andrew Trivette presented Planning Commission with a list of recommended policy changes from a work group that was formed to tackle the issue.

“Today, we’re hopefully going to arrive at the end of this chapter of the food truck discussion,” he said. “Notice I said this chapter, because I’m expecting that the book is not closed yet.”

The group was formed in August 2017, and held the last of its three meetings over the summer, Trivette said. The group was comprised of city staff members and officials, along with food truck and brick-and-mortar restaurant owners.

Members included Trivette, former Vice Mayor Scott Foster and EDA chairman and Blue Talon Bistro co-owner Adam Steely. Other work group members included Berret’s Seafood general manager and Williamsburg Area Restaurant Association member Brian Mahoney and Don Pratt, former Aromas owner. The area food truck scene was represented by Jon Wade of James City County-based Two Drummers Offbeat Eats and Tina Schadler-Phillips of Prost.

The work group recommended the city allow food trucks through an application process in busy areas including High Street, downtown and midtown, establish a 100-foot buffer between brick-and-mortar restaurants and food trucks in the city’s downtown and allow a limited number of food trucks to operate on private property.

Other recommendations for Planning Commission’s consideration included a limited allowance of food trucks on private property, a $50 food truck permit application fee and requiring the Fire Department inspection still be required for food trucks in the city prior to the issuance of a business license and on each day the truck is in operation.

Today, Williamsburg allows food trucks to operate within its boundaries in two ways. The first is through a special-use permit, which is reviewed and approved by the city manager’s office as long as the event is on public property. Food trucks are also allowed in the city’s Culinary Arts District along Capitol Landing Road from Colonial Parkway to Merrimac Trail.

Trivette said the Culinary Arts District has been scarcely used since being established by Planning Commission in 2016 as a food truck-friendly area.

“We haven’t had a lot of applications. I think we’ve had two, maybe only one that has gone through the permitting process,” he said. “The vast majority of interest has been at special events outside of that district, and so all that really did was indicate that we still had a need to address this issue.”

The work group suggested that language be added to the zoning ordinances of the city’s more popular business districts to allow food trucks through an application process. These districts include the city’s downtown, the new Quarterpath development at Riverside, High Street and Midtown.

“When we had the food truck work group, one of the first questions that we asked was ‘What are the drivers for food truck demand?’ and they said that these are the areas we think that food trucks would want to be during special events,” Trivette said.

Trivette said the two representatives from the food truck operator community agreed their goal was not to see the policy shifted in such a way as to allow food trucks to set up on Prince George Street on any given weekday afternoon.

“We very quickly came to a consensus position because we deflated the elephant in the room; Williamsburg is not ready to allow food trucks on any street at any hour of any day without regulation,” he said.

The group agreed the existing application review process works, despite being somewhat cumbersome, Trivette said. In 2017, three area food trucks were forced to leave a Colonial Williamsburg Fourth of July event on Duke of Gloucester Street because the foundation failed to include the trucks in its permit application for the event, according to the city.

The group also came to a consensus on the need for a buffer zone between restaurants and trucks downtown. A 100-foot zone would be established around each brick-and-mortar restaurant in the city’s Downtown Business Districts, but would allow food trucks to operate within the buffer zone if they get written approval from 75 percent of restaurant owners inside the buffer that the truck is going to be in.

“Whether or not a buffer gets applied and whether its permissive or not is up to City Council, and I suspect that there’s still a lot of work to be done before it gets done correctly,” Trivette said.

Planning Commission members agreed the recommendations were well-considered and are likely to be effective, but will rule on whether or not they get passed up to City Council at a public hearing next month.

Board chairman Elaine McBeth said she agreed with the recommendation the city charge $50 for food truck permit applications.

Trivette estimates that the earliest the recommendations could get to City Council would be January 2019. The policy changes should go into effect 10 days after being approved by council, if adopted.

Arriaza can be reached at 757-790-9313 or on Twitter @rodrigoarriaza0.

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