Council to consider new mobile vendor laws

A customer places an order at Nomad’s Natural Plate, a mobile business that frequently sets up shop in the Nightbird Books parking lot on Dickson Street.

Photo by Todd Gill, Flyer staff

Fayetteville’s mobile vendor community may soon benefit from new laws that would make it easier for food trucks and trailers to stay open longer in one location.

Current city code requires mobile vendors to move to a new location after 90 days unless they can convince the Planning Commission to approve a variance. While it’s uncommon for the commission to deny a variance, the application process alone can be time consuming, and sometimes comes to a head when brick-and-mortar businesses complain that the mobile vendors have an unfair advantage.

The new laws, brought forth by Alderman Matthew Petty, would double the time vendors could stay in one spot, meaning they could operate for six months each year without having to apply for a variance.

Since some people have voiced concerns over mobile vendors who might renew their permit and stay in the same spot year after year, the new law would give commissioners the ability to require property owners who rent space to food trucks to add restrooms to their property or make landscape and sidewalk improvements.

While the commission would be free from having to decide every 90 days whether a food truck or trailer creates an unfair advantage over nearby brick-and-mortars, mobile vendors would not be allowed to sell a primary product that’s identical to primary products at an adjacent brick-and-mortar business on the same side of the road. In other words, a fried chicken trailer couldn’t operate directly next door to KFC. They could, however, serve Coca-Cola or french fries since neither food is a primary product.

Hawaiian Brian’s owners Michael and Shanea Holmbeck first opened their restaurant inside an Airstream trailer at the Yacht Club on College. The couple moved the business to a traditional storefront in the Evelyn Hills Shopping Center after about four months.

Todd Gill, Flyer staff

Petty told commissioners last week why he felt the new laws were so important.

“I can’t think of an example where anyone has been put out of business because a food truck opened,” said Petty. “But I can think of a lot of examples where somebody was able to get into the game because they had that opportunity.”

At least three businesses that first opened inside an Airstream trailer at the Yacht Club on College mobile vendor park have transitioned into brick-and-mortar locations. Grey Dog boutique and Hawaiian Brian’s moved into traditional storefronts last fall, and Pigmint Floral and Event Design opened up shop on East Center Street earlier this year.

While the Yacht Club offers start-ups the chance to test the market without making a huge upfront investment, Petty said there’s more to be gained from encouraging incubator-style mobile vendor parks around town.

Petty said places like the Yacht Club “activate” unattractive vacant lots where life seems lost.

“Vacant lots are like missing teeth on an otherwise perfect face,” said Petty. “They detract from the experience of Fayetteville whether you’re a pedestrian, a driver, a cyclist, or just someone who lives in the neighborhood.”

Petty said the Yacht Club has served as an example of how mobile venders can turn vacant lots into commercially and socially vibrant areas that might look more attractive to investors considering further development of the land.

“I want to see vacant lots get food trucks and food trailers out on them, and then I want to see those turn into buildings with housing and retail and eating establishments,” he said.

The new laws, which were endorsed by the Planning Commission last week, would not apply to lemonade stands, fireworks vendors or nonprofit groups.

It’s now up to City Council members to decide whether the changes should go into effect.