Friday, February 3, 2023

Round 3: Surf City food truck debate to continue at hearing later this month

Restaurant owners and a Surf City councilman argued that the roadside peddler ordinance has, for years, been interpreted by the town as a ban on all mobile vendors. So why the sudden change in policy?

Steven Pasquantonio, owner of Daddy Mac's Beach Grille, implores Surf City town councilmembers to place a moratorium on itinerary peddlers, including food trucks, until a final decision is made whether to place an outright ban on mobile vendors. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
Steven Pasquantonio, owner of Daddy Mac’s Beach Grille, implores Surf City town councilmembers to place a moratorium on itinerary peddlers, including food trucks, until a final decision is made whether to place an outright ban on all mobile vendors. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)

SURF CITY — After residents again took opposing views on food trucks to the podium at Wednesday’s town council meeting, Mayor Doug Medlin called for a closed session and then a motion for a public hearing later this month to try and settle the issue.

RELATED: Surf City restaurant owners calling for ban on food trucks, but not everyone agrees

Town attorney Charles Lanier cited the attorney-client privilege of North Carolina’s Open Meetings Law, General Statute § 143-318.11(a), to call for a closed session that lasted more than thirty minutes; no further information about the substance of the session was made available.

On Thursday morning the town posted details of the upcoming “public input meeting” on Facebook, urging “concerned citizens and business owners to come and voice their opinions and/or concerns regarding an ordinance to regulate or prohibit the regulation of food trucks within the town limits.” 

Moratoriums, litigation, and bans

Although four restaurant owners urged the town council to place an immediate moratorium on food trucks until a final decision is made, Town Manager Ashley Loftis later confirmed that no such moratorium — or temporary ban — was set forth after the closed session.

“Once we hear all sides, a draft ordinance will need to be done and taken to the Planning Board. Once the Planning Board makes a recommendation then that will be taken to Council with another public hearing. At this point we are not leaning one way or another, we still need to hear comments from others,” Loftis said.

Restaurant owners’ main arguments for a ban centered around the town’s mishandling of an ambiguous roadside peddler ordinance: the town had historically banned mobile vendors until they suddenly allowed food trucks in the parking lot of Salty Turtle Beer Company this past August.

Although town officials did not answer complaints of the town’s unclear policy toward the issue, councilman Jeremy Shugarts explained how a group of restaurant and pub owners had formed in recent months to address the ordinance and the town’s mishandling of the ordinance. Only two businesses were in favor of allowing food trucks to operate within city limits, he said, and it was only after they promised “litigation” that the group’s majority began seeking an outright ban.

Shugarts said he then received information that Surf City “could enforce a ban on peddlers and vendors such as many other communities have done successfully without litigation. At this time there are no lawsuits in the state of North Carolina on vendors and peddlers if the ordinance and ban is done properly.”

Complaints

Shugarts summed the reasons behind the group’s pro-ban stance succinctly: “safety, parking, health, taxes, permits, zoning requirements, restrooms, licensing, and impact fees. These are all the things our businesses had to do to be a restaurant or to be a business here.”

Lance Jordan, owner of Quartermaster’s restaurant, said that nearly all of the food trucks recently allowed to operate in Surf City have come from outside Pender County, and thus haven’t paid county taxes and were not forced to comply with county health regulations.

But the central issue for Jordan stems from the town’s inconsistent policy toward mobile vendors. He said that five years ago he had asked the town for permission to place an ice cream truck in the parking lot of his restaurant, but his request was denied.

“I was told no, and have been told no for five years. I want to understand how the position of the ordinance has changed any in the last three months,” Jordan said.

Misinterpretation, misunderstanding, misinformation

Minutes from a town council meeting on August 28, 2015, show that around the time of Jordan’s initial request, the town had granted approval for another ice cream truck to operate in the town:

[Then Town Manager] Mr. Bergman stated the town has had a peddler ordinance in [place] since 1994. A few years ago there was a slight change to modify for the allowance of ice cream trucks. The intent of the ordinance is to keep roadside peddlers from selling merchandise or food from lining the streets and blocking the road. There has been a request from a local citizen to place a food truck on a private lot. As the ordinance stands today it would not allow for the food truck on the private lot. Today we are looking for direction.

After a discussion regarding the issue, Bergman recommended the town’s attorney, Lanier, to review the peddler’s ordinance.

“It was a consensus that the peddler’s ordinance stay as it is,” minutes from the meeting showed. 

Councilman Shugarts said there has been much “misinterpretation, misunderstanding, and wrong misinformation on this [ordinance].”

(Note: You can read the complete ordinance at the end of this article.)

According to Shugarts, “For the last nine years, we in this community have been told by this town and its representatives: ‘We do not permit peddlers and vendors; not t-shirt vendors, not furniture vendors, not seafood vendors, not food trucks.’ So you can understand the confusion when all of the sudden, it’s different.”

He suggested a moratorium on food trucks until a proper public discussion could be held to “get the [ordinance] right.”

For Shugarts, it was this discussion — fair and open to both sides of the issue — that was most important for the community going forward. Both Shugarts and Jordan spoke out against a barrage of “hate emails” and Facebook posts attacking a fellow member of the recently formed restaurant and pub group due to recent reporting on the issue.

“It’s okay to express your concerns — that’s what democracy’s all about,” Shugarts said. “That’s the greatest thing about this country.”

The “Ice cream truck” ordinance:

As permitted by Special Use Permit, ice cream retail from motor vehicle shall be allowed on interior subdivision streets only. No vendor shall operate on Highway 210, Highway 50, North Shore Drive, South Shore Drive or N. Topsail Drive. Audible music cannot be played while on the above streets within the Corporate Limits. Vehicle must be inspected by the police department and proof of insurance shown. Vehicle may not be parked in a stationary location.

   (e)   License refunds. Roadside peddlers who obtained a current business license required by the town prior to the passage of this section shall, upon application, be refunded a prorated portion of that tax for the balance of the current tax period, based on the number of months remaining in the tax year from the effective date of this section.

   (f)   Penalty. Violation of this section shall be a misdemeanor punishable under G.S. 14-4. Each day’s violation shall be a separate offense.

(Ord. No. 2000-19, §§ 1—6, 8-1-00; Ord. No. 2012-04, 8-7-12)


Mark Darrough can be reached at Mark@Localvoicemedia.com

 

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