Local business owners weigh in on Black Mountain's new food truck ordinance
Black Mountain's new food truck ordinance, adopted in April, marks the first time the town has established any such regulations for mobile food vendors.
Jessica Trotman, the planning director for Black Mountain, acknowledged the important role food trucks play in the town's economy, particularly during the pandemic. She said nearly all of the requirements detailed in the ordinance are required by state law and the health department.
"The ordinance helps to provide an orderly and safe environment for mobile food vendors to operate in Black Mountain," Trotman said.
The ordinance requires mobile food vendors to obtain a temporary use permit, valid for one year, issued by the zoning administrator through an application with the planning department. The vendors may operate only in locations specified in the permit.
In addition to basic health code requirements, vendors are not permitted to operate within 10 feet of another building or vendor to follow the town's setback requirements. Additionally, seating, toilets and water or sewer connections are prohibited.
The regulations are not as simple as they might seem.
"The city, the health department and the powers that be have put me through all kinds of hell," said Jay Neumann, owner of the Pizza Machine food truck. "They say one thing and they do another."
In his three and a half years of business, Neumann said it's been difficult for Pizza Machine's operation. Since his main truck doesn't move from its location behind Natural Food Store at 108 Black Mountain Ave., his business falls under food vendor court.
For food vendor courts, regulations are a little different. Defined by the town as a plot where mobile food vendor-associated amenities are regularly provided, vendor courts can allow for restrooms, outdoor seating and a permanent kitchen.
However, for special events, for which a permit with the town has been granted, these requirements do not apply.
"Mobile food vendors existing prior to the ordinance are not required to acquire a temporary use permit," Trotman said. "I cannot speak to individual vendors who may have already been in violation of their operating permit issued by the health department."
Lincoln Walters, proprietor of WNC Outdoor Collective at 110 Black Mountain Ave., said for a business such as his, which serves beer but not food, having mobile vendors such as food trucks has been essential.
"If you're ever serving beer, you want to complement it with food," Walters said. "We don't have food, and yet we want to offer people something. Having rotating food trucks is good."
Walters cited benefits of having food trucks such as a variety of cuisine, the mixing of cultures and providing patrons with local flavor as opposed to a chain restaurant.
Although coordinating with mobile vendors to pop up on the weekends poses a challenge, Walters said he's been appreciative of the food trucks he's hosted. For establishments like WNC Outdoor Collective with limited outdoor space, the ordinance ensures vendor cooperation when it comes to private property.
Walters said if the ordinance prevented food trucks from coming, that would be a problem but all things considered, the regulation could be beneficial.
"I always think less regulation is better, personally," Walters said. "But at the same time I get it. There's a need for putting something in place when there's nothing in place.
Despite the challenges Neumann has faced establishing Pizza Machine, he said he's not bitter about the new ordinance, even though it affects him heavily.
"I understand why they're doing it," Neumann said. "I thought that I'd be grandfathered in, but I'm not, but it's OK."
Though he will have to make adjustments, Neumann said the new regulations will force him to grow. He understands why Black Mountain would want an ordinance.
As more and more breweries and businesses employ the use of food trucks, Neumann said it makes sense the town would need regulations in place.
"As far as my stance on it, it's business as usual," Neumann said. "Just protect the integrity of town."
Ezra Maille covers the town of Black Mountain, Montreat and the Swannanoa Valley. Reach him at 828-230-3324 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Please support local journalism with access to more breaking news by subscribing.