Plan moves forward to update Fort Smith mobile food truck, food court rules

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 142 views 

Rules providing a one-year permit and flexibility in the number of moves in that year were some of the preferred ideas supported by members of the Fort Smith Planning Commission toward a new ordinance regulating mobile food trucks in the city.

The Commission met Monday (March 16) in a public hearing with city staff to seek consensus on key elements of a new ordinance. The key areas include length of permits; products/foods permitted; permit fees; types of vehicles permitted/allowed; and relocation requirements/flexibility.

Wally Bailey, director of development services for Fort Smith, has said the city’s rules are “antiquated” and more restrictive than most cities, and certainly more so than rules among a group of eight cities he and other city staffers have reviewed. The cities reviewed are Bentonville, College Station, Texas, Fayetteville, Lee’s Summit, Mo., Little Rock, and Tulsa. College Station and Lee’s Summit were reviewed because of similar population, Bailey said.

Also, the ordinance is likely to end a ban on mobile food trucks in downtown Fort Smith that has been in place since 1993.

The six commissioners attending Monday’s meeting seemed to agree on providing for a one-year permit to mobile food/product vendors. The maximum time allowed now is 120 days and the permit costs $250, with some commissioners saying the permit fee could rise for the one-year permit.

As to the number of moves within the year, commissioners were open to an unlimited number as long as the vendor followed regular criteria for each move. Commissioner Brandon Cox said the city should be “flexible” with respect to vendors moving around the city.

The Commission was not collectively certain on what a vendor must do when the annual permit expires. Rett Howard said they need to move to a new location.

“The whole purpose of a mobile food truck … is to let them move around town,” he said.

But Commissioners Don Keesee and Michael Redd disagreed.

“Just to make them move to make them move doesn’t make sense to me,” Redd said.

Bailey said much of the public feedback on the issue has been in support of allowing food courts for mobile food vendors. He said the city has received several requests in the last six months. Commissioners appeared favorable to rules allowing areas where several mobile food trucks could gather. Howard wanted to make such areas a conditional use that would require Planning Commission approval. He also suggested special language – to include hours of operations, proximity to homes – for food court requests near residential areas.

City staffers will now combine rules from other cities, Commissioner input and community feedback into a possible ordinance. Bailey said after Monday’s meeting that he hopes to have a “skeleton” ordinance to the Commissioners for a March 30 meeting, with a Planning Commission-approved ordinance to the Fort Smith Board of Directors by May.