Whether to allow mobile food units in Leesburg’s business districts will come back for at least one more round of debate and potential vote.
Tuesday night, the council initiated Zoning Ordinance amendment changes that, if ultimately approved, would allow food trucks on private property only in the town’s B-1, B-2, B-3, and B-4 districts. These districts include the historic downtown, the Crescent Design District, parts of the East Market Street corridor, and the Village at Leesburg. While there appears to be majority support for approving the changes in the latter three districts, the major sticking point has—and continues to be— whether food trucks should be permitted in the downtown historic district.
While Monday night’s work session drew spectators from the local brewery and food truck community, whom have been supportive of food trucks in the downtown, Tuesday night drew voices from the opposition. A slew of downtown business and property owners made it clear that food trucks would not be a good fit downtown. Many of those voices came from within the restaurant industry.
Opinions were split as to whether the prevalence of food trucks downtown would pose a threat to existing restaurants. But restaurant owners seemed to agree that these food trucks may have some unfair advantages. Curtis Allred, proprietor of Delirium Café USA, questioned how the town would be able to assess and collect meals taxes on food trucks. He also said he knew at least one landlord who would be willing to monetize his parking lot by allowing food trucks to set up there.
“The only reason we’re talking about food trucks in the B-1 is because business and property owners built you a destination where these guys want to come and get their slice of the pie,” Allred said.
“Saying no is alright,” downtown property owner Michael O’Connor said to the council. “It’s not allowed now. It doesn’t have to be allowed.”
Greg Stone, who said he is a regular at Leesburg’s microbreweries, spoke up in favor of the changes. He said he did not believe the impact on local businesses would be as big as feared, and said many patrons of local watering holes do patronize local restaurants following a brewery stop.
“Let’s don’t go searching for a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist,” he said. “Food trucks are an integral part of the success of the beer and wine business. Let’s don’t be the town that says no to something that’s been successful in other places.”
The council last year approved Zoning Ordinance changes to allow food trucks in the town’s industrial and employment center districts. But there has never been that critical fourth vote to support food trucks in the business districts.
Leesburg’s newest council member Joshua Thiel, who won February’s special election to fill out the remainder of Ken Reid’s unexpired council term, made his perspective known Tuesday. He said he supported allowing food trucks in the town’s business districts—but not the downtown area. Thiel pointed to the existing parking problem in downtown and said the area is already crowded enough that there is no room for food trucks.
Mayor Kelly Burk and council members Marty Martinez and Tom Dunn also voiced their desire to keep food trucks out of the historic downtown. Dunn called it a “historic preservation issue” and noted that already signs and other fixtures on downtown streets and sidewalks are not being managed properly.
Moving forward, Vice Mayor Suzanne Fox said the conversation about whether to approve the changes needed to come with input from the local business community.
“We need to have this conversation with businesses involved … so they can make some decisions for themselves,” she said.
The vote to initiate the changes passed by a 6-1 vote, with Martinez opposed. The ordinance amendment will now go before the Planning Commission for review and a public hearing, before returning to the council for one more public hearing and vote.