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Commission discusses food truck challenges

The growing popularity of food trucks has Planning Commission members considering formal definitions and policies for Washington County.
“There is a trend in the food truck business, but the challenge is they are hard to classify,” Ross Phillips said during the Jan. 6 meeting. “They are not considered restaurants because there is no structure.”
Phillips is a community planner with the First Tennessee Development District who provides assistance to Washington County on a contract basis.
In an effort to be business friendly, he said some cities have designated specific areas where food trucks can operate. “There are a lot of solutions on how to regulate, or you could just say they are allowed in B-1 and B-2 (zoning districts) with no restrictions.”
Commissioner Mark Larkey asked Phillips to look at the guidelines other counties have established for food trucks.
Phillips also will research whether Washington County would receive the sales tax for products sold from a food truck if the owner’s business license is from another area.
“What I don’t want to see is a food truck from Bristol taking patrons from local mom and pop establishments and putting them out of business,” Commissioner Robbie McGuire said.
Ensuring Washington County receives the sales tax should be part of the definition, according to Commissioner Pat Wolfe. “I also think inspections by the Health Department would be important,” he added.
Phillips said instructing owners to follow all state requirements would be easier than inspections.
“I also want to be flexible if local clubs want to bring in a vendor for an event,” Wolfe said.
Holding a meeting for public input on the topic may be a good idea at some point, Phillips suggested. “You want to hear from restaurants who pay taxes and are involved in the community, but you don’t want to stifle a creative business plan.”
Phillips said a consensus among Planning Commission members would be helpful as to whether a temporary permit would be offered and if the food truck could remain on site during hours it is not open for business.
“I also want to consider the distance from other businesses,” Commissioner Joe McCoy said.
Philips said a pilot program could be the first step. “Studies show that another business will draw more people to the first one,” he said. “We also need to think about how restrictions will be enforced.”
When Wolfe suggested making the definitions fairly generic in the first run, Phillips cautioned vague terms can be easily challenged.
Planning Commission members will resume the discussion during their next meeting with the additional information provided from Phillips.