The first workshop meeting of the Harker Heights City Council that had been put on hold for over a month was conducted telephonically Tuesday.
Most of the meeting was spent discussing information presented by the Director of Planning and Development Joseph Molis concerning the regulation of mobile food vendors and mobile food vendor courts.
During a City Council meeting on April 28, Killeen resident Thomas Briganti requested that the city create requirements for mobile food vendors. Prior to Tuesday’s workshop, Molis and his staff researched the Code of Ordinances as well as neighboring municipality requirements for mobile food vendors.
To date, the city has no regulations pertaining to mobile home vendors or food truck courts.
“Without specific ordinances, the city has had to infer requirements from seven different sections from the code,” Molis said.
The city maintains regulations regarding the fire safety of mobile food vendors that are adapted from the International Fire Code.
Because they are stricter than neighboring communities, the requirements have been the subject of comments to the planning department, fire department, city administration and the chamber of commerce.
Molis said, “We believe these regulations are necessary to maintain the safety of the food vendors, the public and surrounding properties.
He cited several recent accidents involving food trucks in Texas, including a Bastrop incident in 2013 and recently one in San Marcos. Molis played a news video for the council about two explosions in one food truck at San Marcos.
The planning and development staff also believes that there should be regulations for mobile food vendors so there is equity between them and the numerous brick-and-mortar restaurants.
Mayor Spencer Smith said, “We must first protect the brick and mortar establishments because they represent significant investments through property and sales taxes, adherence to landscaping and their employment of local citizens.”
Molis came before the council seeking guidance as to how to further proceed and what requirements they believe are necessary.
He began his list of topics with asking whether food trucks be allowed on public streets.
Councilwoman Jackeline Fountain responded, “I agree with having businesses concur with food trucks to have them park in a safe zone on their premises but I’m not in favor of having them in our neighborhoods.”
Councilwoman Jennifer McCann said, “We invited Kona Ice to our neighborhood and it was a huge success and seems like there would be a happy medium concerning time allowed in certain locations.”
Molis said the staff is recommending a provision that ice cream trucks and taco trucks are allowed in residential areas but food trucks be confined to commercial streets.
City Manager David Mitchell said, “We would recommend that food trucks not be allowed to park along streets for safety reasons. We could not control families and children crossing streets and the lack of visibility. I can just see a child crossing the street and a vehicle passing at the same time.”
Another consideration, according to Molis, is distancing from structures.
“We will look at our thoroughfare plan and at our arterial roads such as FM 2410. Warriors Path is not a TxDOT artery and it would be incredibly unsafe to have food trucks along that route,” said Molis.
To clarify, Molis said, “What I’m hearing is that we don’t want them on a commercial street and if they go on a residential street, there will be a time limit.”
Smith commented, “In my mind, residential streets present a problem that are safety issues because cars are parked there. We should take a look at our streets and find the ones that are permissible.”
Molis said the biggest issue in several cities is the question of whether a food truck is a restaurant.
Molis said, “Some restaurants feel threatened by food trucks and want protection.”
Councilman John Reider and Councilwoman Fountain both agreed that there is a need for that protection.
City Manager David Mitchell explained the process to the council.
“The way this is playing out is that we’ll be getting input each day and bring it back in another workshop after they have crafted an ordinance and you can give us additional direction, if needed.”
McCann made a plea to talk with the chamber and CEO Gina Pence.
“I’m speaking about this from the perspective of the Food, Wine and Brew Fest. We are always in touch with the food truck owners and meet with them each year. The information you’ll get from them will be invaluable.”
The idea of a mobile food truck court was also discussed, with Mayor Smith commenting that it would be good to have some templates from other cities and how theirs was developed.
Mitchell said, “We do have at least one individual who wants to start a mobile food truck court in Harker Heights and it’s something we need to workshop further and gather information from Gina about how other businesses feel about the idea.
Briganti, who made the request for some guidance about food truck operation, received clarification that his truck and trailer would be officially considered a food truck. He had paid his $25 business permit and $100 fire inspection fee.
In his comments to the council, made telephonically, he expressed confusion about what had been discussed by the council.
He said, “I’m not able to work.”
Mayor Smith responded, “We understand this situation, but we are not ready for prime time on this right now. We are working on guidance so we can move forward.”
Mitchell told the council, “The issue right now is that he wants to use streets to park his truck on. The staff has said that food trucks can work with private businesses and get permission, but Mr. Briganti said he can’t do that for financial reasons.”
Briganti said, “People don’t stop at parking lots. Can I use the parks? Is the only place I can set up is in a parking lot?
Smith said, “There aren’t any streets or parks that are acceptable right now for your food truck. I think the city has addressed your concerns. I don’t know any other way I can say it.”
Then Briganti said, “How about giving me my money back.”
At that point, the phone went silent and Mayor Smith said, “We’re done, Mr. Briganti. Thank you!”
Mitchell did inform the council that Briganti would be reimbursed for the permit and the fire inspection fee.
Molis and the council continued to discuss issues surrounding the food court such as the types of surfaces that would be preferred, a designated mobile food court manager, distancing, connection to city water and sewer, a permanent restroom and parking requirements.