Workers in the Leesburg’s industrial and employment districts will soon have more culinary options, thanks to the extension of food truck allowances signed off on by the Town Council Tuesday night.
However, the council stopped short of allowing food trucks in the town’s commercial districts, including the historic district.
The new ordinance allows “mobile food units”—which includes food trucks, food trailers and food pushcarts—as temporary uses in the town’s I-1 (Industrial) and PEC (Planned Employment Center) districts. Under the new rules, operators are required to obtain annual temporary use permits from the town and can set up between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. only on specific locations on specific streets listed in the ordinance.
They may not operate drive-through windows serving passing motorists, may not play music and may not have display signs or balloons promoting their locations. They are not allowed to operate longer than four hours in a single location. The provisions allow food trucks in these districts to be operated on both private property and public right-of-way. Zoning Administrator Chris Murphy said he reviewed the regulations adopted by other area jurisdictions and settled on policies that most closely resemble those in Alexandria.
The initial outcry for food trucks started in the districts in which the council ultimately agreed to allow them. Murphy noted that employers in the Oaklawn neighborhood off Battlefield Parkway and Miller Drive said their employees were frustrated by the lack of nearby dining options. As the staff was reviewing options to allow food trucks in the industrial and employment areas another vocal group—downtown microbreweries—also expressed frustrations that they could not host food trucks on their private property to serve patrons.
The measure to allow food trucks in the I-1 and PEC districts passed on a 4-1-1-1 vote, with Mayor Kelly Burk, Vice Mayor Suzanne Fox, and council members Tom Dunn and Marty Martinez in favor; Councilman Ron Campbell opposed; Councilwoman Vanessa Maddox abstaining; and Councilman Ken Reid absent. The council did not vote to bring food trucks into the town’s business districts—B-1, B-2, B-3, and B-4—which includes the downtown.
How such a change would impact existing downtown businesses was clearly at the forefront of council members’ minds.
“At what point is it my job as a government to step in,” Dunn asked. “We have others who are going to roll into town and take advantage of businesses who have paid good money to be here.”
Michael O’Connor, who operates The Tasting Room at Palio and the Leesburg Diner and owns other downtown buildings, urged the council to limit food trucks in the town. He said allowing them downtown would be an affront to those who had invested so much in their brick and mortar businesses.
“To intentionally impact businesses that wash the windows, pay the rent, wash the dishes and cups and glasses, and pay their employees and provide seating and jobs for dozens and dozens of people to me is a huge problem for this town. I don’t think it’s right, I don’t think it’s fair, I don’t think we need it,” he said.
While the council was reluctant to pass any changes Tuesday that would allow food trucks in or near the downtown, they didn’t appear to be quite ready to shut the door on the idea either. Council members, by a 6-0-1 vote with Reid absent, agreed to bring the matter back up at their Dec. 11 work session. Then, they will discuss whether to support other options, including a suggestion by Dunn to increase the number of days each year businesses are permitted to hold special events. Food trucks are currently allowed throughout the town when a special event permit has been filed.
The town’s Economic Development Commission is also expected to weigh in on the food truck regulations ahead of the council’s Dec. 11 work session.
Should the council agree to allow food trucks downtown, the issue would first be sent to the Planning Commission for public hearing and review and then come back to the council for a final vote.
The town staff has agreed to hold in abeyance any outstanding violations of the food truck regulations in town until the council has decided how it wants to proceed.