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Commission questions guidelines for mobile food units

A discussion of whether proposed restrictions related to mobile food units are unfair to private property owners and vendors ended with county commissioners referring the guidelines back to the planning commission.
Following months of consideration and a review of ordinances from surrounding municipalities, the Washington County Regional Planning Commission submitted a resolution defining and regulating mobile food units during the July 27 commission meeting.
A short-term mobile food unit is defined as a food service establishment designed to be readily movable that may only operate at a single location for 15 consecutive days.
Copies of all pertinent local and state permits including health and business permits must be kept within the mobile food unit, and any accessory equipment shall not be located within 15 feet of any property line or structure. In addition, the applicant must provide written consent of the property owner to use the property for the intended purpose.
Temporary use permits will be issued by the Zoning Office at no charge, but an applicant must wait three months after the expiration date before reapplying to operate a short-term mobile food unit on the same property.
The waiting period between operation is the provision questioned by Commissioner Mitch Meredith. “If (a vendor) comes for one weekend, they can’t come back for three months,” he noted. “My opposition is it restricts what private property owners can do.”
Meredith said if the property owner has no problem with a mobile food unit being set up every weekend, a zoning regulation should not prevent that permission from being granted.
“Where did the three months come from?” Commissioner Lynn Hodge asked.
Chris Pape of the Zoning Office said it resulted from a planning commission discussion. “Jonesborough’s is nine months, but they thought that was too long,” he said, adding the competition with established restaurants was another consideration.
According to the resolution, food service establishments may be allowed at special events and not regulated as mobile food units. Special events are activities sponsored by a nonprofit organization or public agency lasting a maximum of 15 consecutive days and include but are not limited to school carnivals, spaghetti dinners, concerts, ballgames and neighborhood fairs.
A long-term mobile food unit is a food service establishment designed to be readily movable which may operate at a single location for more than 15 consecutive days. While a site plan is not required unless a building permit is requested, a drawing of sufficient detail to ensure compliance with all conditions may be required by the Board of Zoning Appeals.
Applications for mobile food units will be considered during the monthly meetings of the Washington County Regional Planning Commission. In order to be included on the agenda, applications must be submitted by the 15th days of the prior month.
Both the Jonesborough and Johnson City regional planning commissions also recommended approval of the guidelines.
Commissioner Rick Storey said if the mobile food unit owner is making a capital investment, it may be worth massaging the language in the resolution.
“I don’t know that more criteria is the answer,” argued Commissioner Mike Ford, who said he has more than 30 years of experience in operating mobile food units.
A motion was made by Commissioner Joe Grandy to refer the resolution back to the Planning Commission for additional clarification. “I agree with Mike Ford that it should not be arduous on the vendor,” he said. “But I think there are enough comments to try to work out a better plan for vendors and property owners.”
The motion was seconded by Commissioner Joe Wise and passed with a unanimous voice vote.