Food trucks Meatball Madness and More and REO Cheesewagon (parks)

Food trucks Meatball Madness and More and REO Cheesewagon were at RIO Revolution in March, cooking lunches and donating to area students. Maryville Planning Commission recently approved an ordinance that will allow food truck parks in the city limits.

Following months of deliberation, Maryville’s planning staff has crafted an ordinance that has been approved to allow food truck parks in the city limits.

Maryville Municipal Planning Commission on Dec. 21 unanimously approved a recommendation that will allow and regulate the popular drive-in-style venue already present in many surrounding counties.

The newly drafted code will head to votes before the Maryville City Council in January and February.

A draft provided to planning commissioners explains the parks will be legal on private lots as a special exception in six different zoning districts. And because each park can only be created with the approval of the Board of Zoning Appeals, that committee will get the final say.

But a variety of rules governing the “wheres” and “whens” of operating a mobile food menagerie is expected to be city law soon.

Parks won’t be able to locate close to residences unless there’s a 30-foot non-disturbance area.

They will have to provide a 500-square-foot unit to operate.

Parking spaces for customers and driving areas will have to be paved, but spots for the vendors can be gravel.

No park can be within 150 feet of an open restaurant.

But those weren’t the points discussed by leaders Dec. 21. They talked about a portion of the code that would require vendors to pack up and leave the park at closing time each day.

City Planner Jordan Clark told commissioners they could take that clause out of the ordinance, though staff put it in to stay consistent with the code regarding “metal buildings” visible from the roadway, he said.

“Maybe we should leave it in for now,” Planning Commissioner Fred Metz suggested. “If there’s a situation where it’s obvious that it would not be detrimental to leave it there, then we could revisit it.”

It would be easier to start strict and then relax than the other way around, he said. City Manager Greg McClain — also a planning commissioner — agreed. “Once they develop it, they’ll probably have other things they’ll want to change,” he said. “We’ll probably open this up anyway. It may be a safe place to start.”

REO Cheesewagon owner Tina Rhea told The Daily Times this week that overnight stays at a food truck park would be interesting, but she’s not sure it would be something she would want to do.

Rhea has been operating her mobile food truck for 3½ years and said moving around each day she’s open is just how the business works.

“I know that in other communities, that’s a big thing,” Rhea said. “Like, in Austin, Texas, they actually take the wheels off their vendors for a season.” She said for a mobile business getting established, it might help. But for people with a regular set of haunts, that might not be the way to go.

Regardless, she said she was excited about the forthcoming ordinance, which is expected to pass easily.

“I think it’s a positive for not only Maryville but Blount County,” she said. “As a food truck owner, I’m very excited about keeping that revenue in Blount County. As a resident, my view is the more we can keep here the better.”

Commissioners didn’t mention any specific property owners interested in establishing a park, but Clark told The Daily Times in an October interview that “a couple” people inquired earlier this year.

Mobile food vendor gatherings are no stranger to Maryville and other parts of the county. Festivals and events often garner several roving businesses from inside and outside the county.

But the ordinance clearly states, “special events hosted by the primary use of the property” would not be food truck parks. Parks would be permanent.

Follow @arjonesreports on Facebook and Twitter for more from city government reporter Andrew Jones.

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