Mobile Farm Stands Get the OK from Committee

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While the city has seemingly figured out how to deal with food trucks, other temporary food providers are being left out of the city’s ordinances.

The Raleigh City Council’s Law and Public Safety Committee dealt with two separate, but related, issues during the food truck discussion at its meeting Tuesday.

Erin Boltz appealed to the committee for more leniency in the city’s code that allows her to set up a temporary farm stand on Creedmoore Road in North Raleigh. Last year, the stand was established on a privately owned vacant lot, but Boltz said the city told her she was not allowed to be there, despite having permission from the owner.

Under city code, Boltz would have to go through the site plan process in order to stay at the lot for more than 20 days.

Her stand is governed by an ordinance meant for fireworks and Christmas tee stands, which don’t usually require more than 20 days to do business. But Boltz would like to be able to provide produce to the area during the entire growing season, which would be at least two to three months.

“It’s the 20 days that’s the biggest issue for me,” said Bolts. “I can’t build my clientele up for 20 days and then leave.”

The 20-day limit can be applied to multiple locations, but Boltz said it took her six weeks to secure her current spot at Abbotswood, a senior living facility on Creedmore Road. The main locations the farm stand are grocery stores, which would try to keep the stand from operating.

The long-term solution is to change the zoning code to include temporary farm stands in residential areas, but the next required public hearing is in October. The committee struggled to find a short-term solution so Boltz can continue operating this summer.

One resident suggested Boltz should stay at the location for the summer and pay the necessary fines while the city works out the change in rezoning. He then told the committee the council could make the new law retroactive and reimburse her fines.

“If she were to set up and stay there and she received a letter from the city and then had to pay a $100 fine and then a $300 fine can we waive the fees for the fines when she comes before council?” said Councilor and committee chair Mary-Ann Baldwin.

“Do you really want to do that?” replied City Attorney Thomas McCormick. He said it will set a precedent for other cases.

Committee members later seemed to find their answer in a legal loophole. The committee advised Boltz to ask Abbotswood to apply for a variance with the Board of Adjustment.

At next week’s city council meeting, the committee will recommend a text change that would enable temporary farm stands to operate longer and in more areas throughout the city. If the text change recommendation is approved, it will continue through to the public hearing in October and then on to the Planning Commission. This process would put the variance hearing on hold allowing Boltz to continue doing business throughout the summer without being cited.

LoMo Market
Committee members found an easier solution for LoMo Market, a mobile farmers market that opened about two months ago. LoMo sells a variety of North Carolina produce, baked goods and meats out of a trailer. The trailer is driven to a location that was nominated, or invited in, by area residents.

According to city ordinance, LoMo is classified as a food truck, which heavily restricts where it can park. As a food truck, LoMo isn’t allowed areas zoned for office or residential, which requires the company to turn down invitations to those areas. But, while LoMo sells prepared foods, it doesn’t prepare foods on site.

In Cary and Durham, LoMo is classified as a peddler and is allowed to be on public streets or private property.

A simple change to the peddler’s license to include the products that LoMo sells would allow the trailer to come to residential neighborhoods.

The city council will vote on both issues at its meeting next week.

Food Trucks a Success
The drama over food trucks seemed to be for nothing as city planner Greg Hallam reported that there haven’t been any complaints from businesses or residents during the first six months of the program. Only one violation was issued for a food truck operator who didn’t have a permit. Hallam said the operator wasn’t aware of the law and applied for the required permit a few days later.

Hallam said there have been 18 food truck permits and 11 location permits issued. Food trucks must have a permit to operate in Raleigh, and the location where the truck is parked must also have a permit.

Hallam also discussed the possibility of allowing food trucks in the Downtown Overlay District, which has many properties zoned for office and residential uses. Currently, food trucks are only allowed in commercially zoned districts.

“It seems to be a success story in Raleigh,” said Councilor Randy Stagner.

He said that the only issue he seemed to hear is that there aren’t enough food trucks.

“As a food truck, it’s been a pleasure to be able to operate in Raleigh legally,” said Klausie’s Pizza owner Mike Stenke, who has been the unofficial spokesman for the food truck movement since debate began two years ago.

Stenke had some suggestions for streamlining the permit process. He said some paperwork required for the food truck permit is already required by the Wake County Department of Health or the city. For example, he said, he had to show a home occupation permit, his sales tax ID and a business license. Stenke said without a home occupation permit and a sales tax ID, he couldn’t have gotten his business license. In that case, the business license should suffice.

“I understand why that was done. It was to make sure that every ‘t’ was crossed and every ‘i’ was dotted, but there is so much dotting and crossing going on that it’s getting in the way of new businesses operating in the city,” he said.

Stenke also suggested allowing additional food trucks on a half-acre lot if the business wants it and could show that it could fit more than one truck on its property while meeting all of the law’s requirements. The current law only allows one truck.

“I’m your side today Mike,” said Councilor John Odom, who originally voted against allowing food trucks.

Odom added that he doesn’t have an issue with allowing an additional food truck on a half-acre lot or streamlining the permit process.

Stagner said he doesn’t see an issue with adding additional trucks or allowing them downtown, but said he would like to see more information from city planning staff before a vote takes place.

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