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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Surf City will allow food trucks with restrictions, displeasing some residents on both sides of issue

Residents complained that the passing of the ordinance was rushed, ignoring the proper protocol for a new rule to be read publicly multiple times.

Surf City mayor Doug Medlin sets forth a motion for the town to draw up two ordinances, one to allow food trucks with regulations, the other to prohibit food trucks, to be proposed at the next town council meeting on Dec. 4. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
Surf City mayor Doug Medlin sets forth a motion for the town to draw up two ordinances, one to allow food trucks with regulations, the other to prohibit food trucks, at a public hearing in November. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)

SURF CITY — After months of debate between town officials, residents, and members of the town council, a new ordinance went into effect Tuesday night allowing food trucks to operate within city limits.

At a public hearing on Nov. 19, Mayor Doug Medlin directed the town manager and town attorney to draft two separate ordinances: one to ban the operation of food trucks in the town completely, the other to permit food trucks with certain restrictions.

On both ordinances presented on Tuesday night’s agenda was a waiver clause stating that the “requirement of three separate readings of this Ordinance is hereby dispensed with by a vote of not less than a majority of all the members of Town Council.”

Councilmembers William Fowler, Neva Albury, and Donald Helms voted in favor of the ordinance while Teresa Batts voted against it and Jeremy Shugarts abstained.

It is unclear why Albury, who has been a vocal proponent of an outright ban of food trucks in support of brick-and-mortar restaurants, voted in favor of the new ordinance.

Councilman Helms made a motion to approve the ordinance with two modifications, increasing the $250 annual fee to $500 and decreasing the time allowed on one property from 24 hours to 12 hours.

The vote took place prior to the meeting’s public comment period.

Reactions range from anger to mild approval

According to Hap Alexander, former owner of Sear’s Landing restaurant, Quartermaster’s Tavern owner Lance Jordan vowed that he would fight against the new ordinance.

Jordan had been a vocal proponent of an outright ban on food trucks and part of a restaurant alliance that had formed in recent months.

“They rushed through this ordinance without any public comment,” Alexander said. “After more than three years of ignoring the food truck issue, the Surf City Board — apparently weary of public input — rushed to adopt an inadequate ordinance that actually offers little regulation normally associated with proper zoning practices.”

He said the ordinance failed to address parking space requirements and the “locating of food trucks within property setbacks and on vacant lots.”

Alexander had pushed the town to form an “independent food truck study task force” including members of the public, business, and private sectors with a mission to recommend a new ordinance to the Planning Board by February 2019.

He said that he hand-delivered seven separate copies of the task force proposal to the town manager, clerk, and members of the council before the meeting, but the idea for a task force was ignored.

Dan Callender, part-owner of Salty Turtle Beer Company and a leader of the pro-food truck movement in Surf City, said he was largely indifferent to the outcome.

“It’s not a total win for us, but it’s not a total loss,” Callender said.

He pointed to the permit fee increase of $250 to $500 — without public input — as a possible deterrent for food trucks commuting from places like Wilmington and New Bern. According to Callender, multiple council members said that although the ordinance would allow food trucks into the town, the restrictive nature of the ordinance would deter many trucks from coming.

That’s what they wanted at the end of the day: slap a huge fee on food trucks and hope for the best, so that no one wants to shell out the permit money,” Callender said. “And if they do, it’s a win for the town anyway.”

Resident Brenda Golder said that she also walked out of the meeting in protest.

“Last night’s meeting was a disgrace. It was like a three-ring circus. I got up and walked out because I was ashamed — these people don’t even know how to vote on something,” Golder said.

Central to her frustration was the waiver clause “dispensing” the requirement for three separate public readings of the ordinance in question. To her, the rushed vote was a sign that the town’s leadership needs to change.

“They have to go; we need young blood. We need someone who can follow the rules,” Golder said. “We elected you to lead us. Do it, lead us. That’s what I told them.”

Mark Darrough can be reached at

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