CAROLINA BEACH — Food trucks are officially welcome in Carolina Beach after Town Council voted to amend a town ordinance that only allowed food trucks that owned a brick and mortar restaurant in town to operate within municipal limits.
These restrictions were first put in place earlier this year and drew criticism from food truck owners — so much so that a national law firm, the Institute for Justice (IJ), filed a lawsuit against the Town Council for its strict protectionism stance.
It only took one week for the Town Council to temporarily suspend its food truck restrictions after the Institute for Justice filed its suit. But even doing so did not convince the firm to drop the lawsuit, since council had agreed to discuss the regulations in a public hearing and make a final decision.
Now, Justin Pearson, managing attorney for IJ has said his firm will be dropping the lawsuit.
“We’re extremely encouraged that they want to improve their food truck laws. It’s not the government’s job to pick winners and losers in the marketplace, that right belongs to the customers,” Pearson said.
The trouble with food trucks can be dated back to 2013, when Town Council began regulating food trucks as itinerant merchants. In spring of 2018 the town decided to amend its town code to clearly identify food trucks in their own right — but left the regulation of a brick and mortar operation.
“One of the regulations that were adopted to operate an itinerant merchant was that you were required to have a business establishment in the town. In March of
this year, the Planning & Zoning commission recommended to separate food trucks from itinerant merchants so there is a clear code allowance and unique criteria for each. Council voted on those changes in April to clearly distinguish the allowance for food trucks, and to ensure there is a corresponding eating and drinking establishment in the town that supports the food truck, and to create a section in the ordinance specifically for food trucks,” according to Town Council’s agenda.
In August the IJ, on behalf of three different food truck owners, filed the lawsuit against the town.
The lawsuit was not one that called for a significant amount of money, instead the plantiff’s requested $1 in damages, and an injunction preventing the town from enforcing the restrictions.
On Tuesday during its regular scheduled meeting, council approved an amended regulation to allow the trucks to operate in town — but there are still restrictions.
Food trucks are only permitted to operate on private property, unless they are part of a town-approved special event. This means the trucks can get permission from store owners to set up shop in their parking lots and serve guests.
There is also a requirement that trucks cannot operate within 100-feet of another existing restaurant.
Councilman JoDan Garza was one of the dissenting votes — but it was not because he was opposed to allowing food trucks, instead, he said the rest of council was not progressive enough with the regulations.
“You’re not trying to look for anything progressive, you’re sticking to the exact same thing — the only reason we changed it is the lawsuit came out to us. We’re going back to almost the original thing,” Garza said.
One of the concerns of Garza was the fact that there are limited places trucks could potentially operate and be more than 100-feet from another restaurant.
The motion to approve the new regulations came from LeAnne Pierce after a failed motion made by Councilman Steve Shuttleworth. Shuttleworth attempted to limit the distance requirement to only 50 feet.