The Buchanan Planning Commission got accolades from Town Council for the work the members had done preparing and recommending amendments to the town zoning ordinance and town code that would allow mobile restaurants/food trucks for the first time.
The matter dates to last year when the Planning Commission was charged with examining and making a recommendation about whether to allow food trucks and what restrictions there should be if allowed.
After Monday evening’s public hearing on the Planning Commission’s proposal, it was clear Town Council may still have some work to do in regard to fees and taxes should it decided to adopt the recommendations— and possibly other changes to the commission’s work.
So much so that Planning Commission Chair Della Hylton told Mayor Craig Bryant, “It’s your baby now.”
The Planning Commission proposal offers several changes to the zoning ordinance and town code to accommodate food trucks along with a variety of restrictions and operational requirements.
Finding what was called “equitable” and “fair” middle ground to protect “brick and mortar” restaurants while still allowing mobile food trucks was the focus of most comments from the public.
What was certain was the reason for the request to allow food trucks— the James River.
The river attracts thousands of people spring through early fall, and those folks often come off the water hungry and thirsty.
Twin River Outfitters (TRO) has attracted many of those visitors through its canoe/kayak livery on the river on Lowe Street. Co-owner John Mays sits on the Planning Commission but recused himself from voting on the proposed ordinance changes because of a possible conflict of interest since TRO could allow a food truck on its property.
While that was not a sticking point for one food truck owner, the recommendation to limit where food trucks could set up to private property was.
That’s because being near the river is especially important to be among the river users who could become customers; and the Planning Commission had identified essentially three spots on Lowe Street near the boat landing where food trucks could set up with property owner permission.
Under the current proposal, food trucks could not set up on public property such as the parking area at the boat landing or on the street.
Sandra Hutchens, who owns Sandra’s Marking Co., told the joint public hearing town people have to change their thinking.
“Our town’s dying,” she said, pointing out that one of the restaurants on Main Street is moving into the Ransone Drug Store fountain area and there are no food trucks in competition with it.
She said she has to pull people out of Roanoke to work for her company because there aren’t enough people in Buchanan.
“We need to open it up,” she said, adding that if not for TRO “nobody would be in town.”
She wondered why the proposed ordinance changes would limit food trucks to two days a week in the same spot. “Don’t make it so hard on somebody so that they say, ‘Shoot, I’m going to Troutville, or I’m going somewhere else.’”
“You have a good point,” Bryant told Hutchens. “It’s bigger than a mobile food vendor. We’ve got to work together to figure this thing out. “
“Sandy told the truth,” Vice Mayor Jamie Manspile said. “It’s been a downhill spiral with a few bright spots, but we’ve got to look at the benefit of the town as a whole.”
He said the one thing that doesn’t cost the town anything is the river. “The people are coming to the river whether the town is here or not. The opportunity is passing us by if we don’t stick an anchor in the ground and hang on, it’s going to keep going.”
Tim Young who owns Buchanan Flea Market said he believes the river creates enough business for everybody. “If you’re not business friendly and don’t allow new ideas you’re going to beat the same old horse and have the same results,” he said.
Just how the food truck issue evolves was uncertain. Council is scheduled to take up the matter for a vote when it meets Monday evening in regular session, but Manspile said that might not happen depending on whether council gets the matter “worked through.”