“Really the main concern there is trying to head off some of the issues other towns are running into before they become an issue in Sylva,” said Russ Harris, a member of the Sylva Planning Board and regional planner for the Southwestern Commission. “It’s a great opportunity for an entrepreneur that doesn’t have a lot of capital to start a business, but at the same time you don’t want to be unfair to your brick-and-mortar restaurants.”
Currently, Sylva doesn’t have a food truck ordinance at all. It regulates the growing number of trucks and carts under its general business ordinance, requiring that they adhere to the same regulations concerning setbacks and parking spaces as brick-and-mortar businesses do.
“It’s not like there’s a problem with it,” said Town Manager Paige Dowling. “We just need to figure out the process.”
The planning board had taken a look at food truck rules a few years ago, but at that time there just weren’t enough such businesses in town for it to seem like it was worth the effort. They’d tabled the discussion with the idea of picking it back up again later, when it was more relevant. That time, apparently, is now.
“In a global sense, it’s been a much-talked-about issue,” said Michael Poston, planning director for Jackson County. “How do you prepare for them, how do you handle it?”
The Waynesville dispute stemmed from a disagreement between the town and Mad Anthony’s Bottle Shop and Beer Garden, which serves food from a trailer parked permanently on the lawn adjacent to the building. The Waynesville planning board was grappling with how to write rules that would protect brick-and-mortar restaurant businesses and town aesthetics, while Mad Anthony’s felt the discussion — and the town board’s final decision on the ordinance — took aim at its very livelihood.
Sylva was watching that tug-of-war play out, Harris said, and felt that it was time for the town to address the issue directly before any issues arose at home.
That’s not to say that the town is necessarily looking to oust food trucks or even regulate them much more heavily than is the case now.
“As far as my opinion goes on it, the only regulating of food trucks I want to do is make it easier for them,” said Sylva Commissioner David Nestler.
Nestler feels like food trucks only add to the downtown and contends that the brick-and-mortar restaurants they compete with the most are fast-food places — McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King.
“That’s the kind of competition I want,” he said.
Dowling is still excited about the Fourth of July celebration Sylva hosted at Bridge Park, complete with fireworks and — you guessed it — food trucks. The town invited the six food trucks and carts operating out of Jackson County to set up at the park and sell their goods, getting five vendors to show up.
“I think that having food on the Fourth of July allowed people to stay longer and enjoy the bands,” Dowling said.
However, there are legitimate issues that an ordinance should address. For instance, preventing sidewalk obstruction so pedestrians and people using wheelchairs can get by, deciding whether food trucks can erect permanent or semi-permanent structures, time limits for staying in one area and location in relation to existing restaurants.
“I think that they can be a good thing and that it allows pop-up businesses and startups,” Dowling said. “But also you want to protect the interests of the restaurants on Main Street.”
The Sylva Planning Board will likely begin discussing the issue at their next meeting, beginning 5:30 p.m. Thursday, July 28, at town hall.