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Meeting addresses issue of funnel cake trailer

A controversial funnel cake trailer parked at the gateway to downtown Jonesborough will remain in operation – at least for now.
Several area business owners and residents attended the May 26 meeting of the town’s Historic Zoning Commission to express their concerns about allowing the red food trailer to set up shop at the intersection of Fox and Main streets.
In April, the Historic Zoning Commission approved a request submitted by Pat Osborne to park the trailer at the corner. Osborne sought approval to use the space for special occasions, alternating between two different vehicles — the red trailer and a cabin-style wagon.
Osborne, who also owns Scott County Lavender in downtown, said she wanted to be open to sell funnel cakes on Friday nights as well as for advertised special events, including Jonesborough Days and the National Storytelling Festival.
Approval was granted for Osborne to use either trailer on a temporary basis for the remainder of the calendar year.
“I’m not certain what the objection is to this,” Osborne said during last week’s Historic Zoning Commission meeting. “My sole purpose of doing this is to bring people to Jonesborough. People love funnel cakes and they will drive to Jonesborough to get one. The way I look at it, things that will bring people to Jonesborough are nothing but positive for us.”
Downtown business owner Steve Cook disagreed.
“There’s just this carnival atmosphere around the funnel cake trailer that I think detracts from our Main Street,” said Cook, who also expressed concern about the regulations in place regarding portable food vendors. “It seems there are so many gray areas that there should have been more looking into putting this there as to what the ramifications are.”
Parson’s Table owner Mike Chikar spoke in support of the funnel cake trailer, and other businesses that could withstand the test of time in Tennessee’s oldest town.
“In just the last five years, there’s been 20 businesses come and go, and that’s just in the historic district,” he said. “Let’s give her a break. Let’s come up with positive solutions to how she might improve the trailer rather than run her off.”
Likewise, Dean Chesnut, who operates a hot dog cart in Jonesborough, said townspeople need to be open to new ideas.
“We can’t rely on storytelling to bring people to this town,” he said. “There’s got to be other things we can bring to town to get people here.”
But Chesnut, who sells his hot dogs during the town’s weekly Music On The Square events, did agree that strict regulations need to be in place regarding food vendors.
“I don’t want to see them up and down the street either,” he said. “I’ll pull mine out before that starts happening.”
Nansee Williams, a resident of the historic district, wasn’t satisfied.
“We have spent thousands and thousands of dollars on our homes and great details have been taken in preserving this town,” Williams said. “I’m not happy as a homeowner and most of the homeowners are not happy. Just the thought of looking at that (funnel cake trailer) every day – the value of my home might go down.”
Despite the audience discussion, members of the Historic Zoning Commission remained mum on the issue, taking no action at last week’s meeting to change their previous decision and leaving Osborne to continue with her funnel cake business.
Permission to set up the funnel cake trailer, however, may not have been the Historic Zoning Commisson’s to give in the first place.
According to Town Attorney Jim Wheeler, the town’s Planning Commission and Board of Mayor and Aldermen may have been required to get involved in the decision.
“There are several layers to this onion here and the Historic Zoning Commission is just one of those layers,” Wheeler said. “The town has a special events ordinance. And the BMA has reserved the right to approve or disapprove vendors. We could also be looking at some building code issues that need to be dealt with.”
Wheeler also pointed out the possible need for a business license or transient vendor permit.
Following the meeting, Wheeler said he would be looking into the matter further to determine what the next step will be regarding the funnel cake trailer.