By Henry Gargan | News Observer
FUQUAY-VARINA – Less than a year after opening the town to food trucks, Fuquay-Varina’s town board has decided to scale back its welcome.
The Board of Commissioners unanimously approved Monday an amendment to the food truck ordinance that would limit each food truck to two days of operation per week in Fuquay-Varina, and only then at the invitation of a brick-and-mortar business or nonprofit.
The twice-weekly limit also applies to how often each business or nonprofit can host food trucks. Town-sponsored special events would be an exception to these limits.
Town Manager Adam Mitchell said the approved measures represent a compromise between the planning board’s more lenient attitude and the nearly complete ban the town staff suggested in January after restaurant owners complained about competition from food trucks.
“When you do negotiations, nobody leaves happy, but they all felt like it was better than it could have been,” Mitchell said. “It’s a matter of balancing the interests of those who are willing to invest in brick and mortar and those who haven’t made that investment.”
The initial rules governing Fuquay-Varina’s first foray into food trucks only required permitted trucks to avoid residential areas, unless catering a private event, and to be at least 100 feet away from a brick-and-mortar restaurant.
Six months later, in January, the town’s staff recommended that food trucks be allowed only in industrially zoned areas of town. That raised eyebrows on the planning board and in the area’s food truck scene.
Suzie Tower, owner of the Deli-icious food truck and a member of the RDU Mobile Food Association’s board of directors, said she was glad the town hadn’t gone that far. But she said a two-day limit could limit Fuquay-Varina’s ability to attract big businesses, some of which have come to rely on food trucks five days a week.
“Some businesses in RTP and Zebulon have dropped their contracts with cafeterias and started bringing food trucks out every day,” she said. “By limiting the number of times food trucks can come out, you limit the ability for that to happen in your town.”
Town staff presented to the planning board Feb. 15 a new recommendation, including the twice-weekly limit and invitation requirement. The planning board approved the brick-and-mortar sponsorship requirement but struck language limiting days of operation from the amendment it endorsed.
But the commissioners ultimately elected to move forward with the two-day limit intact at Monday’s meeting.
Commissioner Marilyn Gardner tried to convince the board to increase the limit to three days per week, but her motion to do so was not seconded. She said the two-day limit could be burdensome for food trucks that are in high demand and argued that microbreweries, some of which are farther from downtown and do not compete directly with restaurants, could benefit from easier access to the trucks.
“When you’re selling alcohol, there are certainly times when it’s better for food to be available nearby,” she said.
Gardner ultimately voted in favor of the amendment as presented.
In contrast to January’s planning board meeting, which drew about 50 members of the public, no one spoke for or against the amendment on Monday.
“That leads me to think this is a neutral compromise,” Commissioner Blake Massengill said of the absence of public comment. “And I kind of have a problem changing something that has been vetted a lot.”