Downtown issue needs another vote
ASHEVILLE — Hungry downtown patrons looking to grab a bite from one of the many food trucks cropping up around the city will have to wait.
The City Council voted 4-3 Tuesday in favor of allowing food vending trucks downtown.
Voting yes were Vice Mayor Brownie Newman and council members Bill Russell, Esther Manheimer and Gordon Smith. Voting no were Mayor Terry Bellamy and councilmen Cecil Bothwell and Jan Davis.
But because the vote was to change an ordinance, a 5-2 majority was needed.
The more than 20-year-old ban on mobile food kitchens in the city center can still be changed with a second 4-3 vote, but that cannot happen until the council meets again in September.
City Councilman Bill Russell who made the motion to overturn the ban, said it was a way to support the free market.
“I live downtown. I love downtown. I like walking around downtown. And I’d love to have more options for food,” said Russell.
But opponents’ concerns range from how the trucks could hurt restaurants to how they will be monitored for health and safety.
Councilman Jan Davis said the trucks are unfair to restaurateurs who have taken great risks to invest in the city’s heart and employ people.
“I think it should be said very clearly that there are concerns about the health of businesses in this city when we see restaurants going out of business,” said Davis.
The time before the next meeting will give the city time to work out issues including whether the fees are too low compared to what restaurant owners pay and if the trucks will mean the city needs to buy more trash cans.
The issue has raised passions among restaurateurs, food truck operators and others.
Food truck owners such as Suzy Phillips say the trucks now operating outside downtown, serving everything from Lebanese food to tacos, will add to the area’s burgeoning culinary scene and give a chance to small entrepreneurs who lack the cash for a bricks-and-mortar restaurant.
Opponents have said the trucks could undermine Asheville’s worldwide culinary image, which has taken years to develop.
With little cost to themselves, food truck owners can take advantage of all that.
Michel Baudouin, owner of the restaurant Bouchon, said his main concern was the noise that the trucks would generate at night.
“Stated hours of operation showed a lack of consideration for guests in hotels and … downtown residents,” said Baudouin.
The proposed rules say trucks must be stationary while working and not park in public spaces. They would have to be registered and regulated by county health inspectors and could operate until 2 a.m. away from residential areas. The time limit was changed from 3 a.m., following a motion by Vice Mayor Brownie Newman.