Councilman John Gabriel provided the members of the planning commission with guidelines for conditional use per Ordinance 2018-63 “Mobile Food Units.” He explained that council had multiple meetings to discuss the food truck legislation. He said per the ordinance, property owners will need to come before the planning commission for conditional use approval. Chapter 872.02 of the ordinance states that no person or entity shall operate of Mobile Food Unit within the City of Vermilion without a permit issued by the City. Prior to acquiring a Mobile Food Unit permit, owners of properties zoned B1, B3 or B4 must have conditional use approval from the Vermilion Planning Commission.
Therefore, the planning commission will look at different aspects of the property; parking, ingress/egress for traffic flow and safety vehicles; does property have an existing building/business for many reasons – the foremost is restroom facilities and the proper disposal of grey water waste. Empty lots or properties that do not have water, sewer, or garbage handling abilities should not be considered an adequate location. Also, would this be an extension of the properties existing business use? Properties that already sell food/beverage/alcohol and/or provide entertainment/tourism services should be given positive consideration. More heavy commercial uses should be thoroughly reviewed. Does the property meet minimum ADA requirements? Properties with a least one Handicap parking space is preferable. Also, would the use of the property create an undue disturbance to nearby residential or neighboring businesses? Some properties are in and near residential areas, impact on neighboring properties should be considered.
Gabriel said right now food trucks in the Harbourtown district are permitted on public spaces, which is limited to a degree because they want to make sure they don’t harm the existing restaurants that depend on the tourism business as well. He said in the commercial areas he thinks they have adequate places that have a lot of big parking lots and space; not only for their existing customer base, but they could put in another small business as a food truck is and accommodate that parking as well. He said these are some of the things the planning commission could look for when granting conditional approval. He would like to report back to council on a set of guidelines the members are comfortable with. He said the planning commission can vote on a set of guidelines and then council and the administration will know where they are coming from. He said city council will be the appeals process for anybody that comes before planning commission and gets turned away.
Planning commission member Joe Williams asked if the B3 zoning is the only district eliminated. Gabriel responded that the only district eliminated is B2 because it’s Harbourtown and they don’t have parking lots. He said it states under Chapter 872.08 Regulations. (a) Except as provided in Section (i) below, a Mobile Food Unit may only be located and operated on municipal property, property zoned B1, B3 or B4, or in the public right-of-way. (b) No Mobile Food Unit shall operate prior to 10am or after 10pm.
Williams asked how they determined the use of a food truck when the food truck is preparing the food somewhere else and dropping it off – is that catering? Gabriel replied yes, and it’s defined in the legislation. He said they allow food trucks on residential properties, but they limit the timeframes that they can be there. If somebody has a graduation party or something like that, they can have them for a day, but there are no outside sales to the public.
Planning commission member Heidi Strickler asked if the planning commission’s purpose is to only grant conditional use. Gabriel explained that the property owner will come to the planning commission to get a conditional use – this is a one-time deal. All this is saying is that the property is equipped to have food trucks.
The food truck itself separately must register and then they get a license, and they’re required to have safety inspections, etc. as defined per the ordinance. Strickler said when it comes to the appeals and the hearing; they can appeal when the building department says no, but she didn’t see the appeals process when the planning commission says no. J. Gabriel said the appeals process is already built into the planning commission rules per ordinance and anyone can appeal anything the planning commission denies to city council. The planning commission will just be dealing with the property owner. Strickler said the legislation states the mayor has the power to waive fees, and Gwen Fisher explained the intent of this is mainly for festivals and various non-profits.
Planning commission member Heather Shirley confirmed that when somebody applies for a permit, it’s the actual food truck owner that is applying. Also, she addressed background checks and Gabriel said that was stricken from the ordinance. Shirley asked if the VFD would be performing the safety inspections and the mayor said they will make sure the food trucks have all their health and safety inspections. Shirley asked if the city had any idea how many food trucks will be coming forward. Mayor Forthofer said if they grandfather in the festivals, then there should be no more than a dozen under the normal circumstances.
Gabriel said his fear has been that food trucks will hurt brick and mortar places, so they walked a thin line on trying to make food trucks go through a process much like the businesses must go through.
Williams said when the ordinance passed it eliminated the ‘Old Town Hall’ from allowing a food truck. Mayor Forthofer explained the food truck was going to be on public property for the Ice-a-Fair and it would have had to go before the parks department for approval and that board didn’t meet until a month after the event. Gabriel explained that on public land, you’re only allowed approval once a month. Shirley asked if there was a time specified for the mobile unit if you’re within the proper zoning and meet all the requirements. Gabriel responded no mobile food unit shall operate prior to 10:00 a.m. or after 10:00 p.m. Shirley asked if the mobile food unit is required to get a new permit if they change their location. Gabriel wasn’t sure about a new permit, but the location they are going to needs conditional use approval.
After much discussion, the planning commission approved the conditional use guidelines for Mobile Food Units as submitted.