Leesburg Town Council members have put the wheels in motion for tents and shade structures for downtown restaurant owners. But a vote last week firmly put the brakes on food trucks in the downtown historic district.
Town Council members June 12 passed changes that expand the allowance of food trucks in the town’s business districts but, once again, held off on expanding that allowance to the downtown historic district.
By a 4-3 vote, the council voted to allow mobile food units on private property in the B-2, B-3, and B-4 zoning districts, along with the Crescent Design District. This change will expand the allowance of food trucks beyond the town’s employment center and industrial districts to also include portions of the East Market Street corridor and the Village at Leesburg.
The one sticking point for the council throughout the debate – which has included multiple public hearings over the better part of the last year – has been whether to allow the food trucks on private property in the downtown. Those opposed have cited the historic nature of the downtown and the incompatibility of food trucks within the area, as well as the competition they could pose to brick and mortar restaurants. Some of the staunchest advocates of allowing food trucks in the downtown have been local microbreweries and their patrons. Black Walnut Brewery and Loudoun Brewing Company, in particular, had frequently invited food trucks onto their property to serve patrons on busy weekends.
The council decided not to go with the Planning Commission’s recommendation of allowing food trucks in the downtown, save for an “exclusion zone” bounded by North Street, Harrison Street, Royal Street and Liberty Street and including the Market Station complex. The proposed area would have allowed food truck operations at the two breweries. In explaining their reasoning for not supporting the commission’s recommendation, council members echoed similar concerns from town staff of how that would hold up legally.
Those who supported keeping food trucks out of the downtown cited the historic nature of the area.
“When you own a property or a business there, you have decided to work under different, restrictive guidelines,” Councilman Tom Dunn said. He was joined in supporting food trucks in the B-2, B-3, and B-4 by Mayor Kelly Burk and council members Vanessa Maddox and Marty Martinez.
Vice Mayor Suzanne Fox and Councilman Ron Campbell were the only ones to support Councilman Josh Thiel’s initial motion to allow food trucks in all business districts, including the B-1.
While previous Town Councils have stopped short of allowing tents or other shade structures on a temporary basis in the downtown, last week the council also moved those changes forward. By a 5-2 vote with Burk and Dunn dissenting, restaurants and microbreweries may utilize seasonal weather enclosures, shade structures and tents to sustain their operations through the winter months, or shield their patrons from the hot sun. The Board of Architectural Review would only have authority to approve seasonal weather enclosures or shade structures, but only if the latter is attached to a building. Tents would be exempt from BAR review, but all three structures would require a zoning permit.
The adopted Zoning Ordinance regulations provide regulations on the permitted size of the structures, as well as the area it may encompass and the length of time they are allowed. Tents will be permitted in rear yards only and can be erected for the winter months of October through March.
Curtis Allred, proprietor of Delirium Café USA, which has previously used a tent on its Loudoun Street property, was the only one to speak at last week’s public hearing on the structures. He expressed strong support.
“When you’re in business, you’re in it for a profit,” he said. “If you can get additional seats and additional revenue year round, why wouldn’t you?”