Council plans public hearing to discuss food truck changes

Thursday, January 13, 2022

The Eureka Springs City Council will hold a public hearing regarding food trucks before its next regular meeting on Jan. 24.

At Monday’s meeting, several council members expressed concerns about the existing lottery system for food truck locations on Highway 62, which allows two trucks along that highway. A proposed ordinance would increase that number to five, but council members questioned the need to even have a lottery or limit the number of food trucks that are allowed to operate.

“I’ve spoken with a lot of folks in town and it seems they don’t understand why the council had passed the lottery issue,” council member Harry Meyer said. “And of course, I do remember when it was passed. It was to protect brick-and-mortar restaurants.

“And I don’t know. Have we had any objection from brick-and-mortar restaurants about food trucks? I don’t think so. In fact, we have to allow more food trucks during the Zombie Crawl because there’s so many hungry people in town that the brick-and-mortars can’t feed them all.”

Meyer alluded to remarks made by former council member Laura Jo Smole during public comments. Smole suggested allowing food trucks to operate in areas zoned C-2.

“I kind of like what Laura Jo suggested, just allowing food trucks in C-2,” Meyer said.

“I do, too,” said council member Autumn Slane.

“I agree,” added council member Nick Roberts.

Council member Terry McClung said he’d like to provide an opportunity for representatives from brick-and-mortar restaurants to share their thoughts on the issue.

“They may not be that aware of what’s going on yet, that this is being considered because they are a major part of this community and tax collectors. They have the mortgages. … They’ve got this model that’s there. They’re a primary citizen. Whether they live in town or not, their businesses are in town, and it pays our bills. So I would like to hear from them.”

Slane, who owns and operates two local brick-and-mortar restaurants along with her husband, said she wasn’t opposed to having more food trucks in town.

“I love the food trucks,” Slane said. “I mean, I would hate for the town to be kind of overran, so to speak, but I don’t think we’re at any even chance of that at this point. I’m kind of with Terry, though. I would like to know what people are really thinking and how they really feel about it.”

Roberts, who also operates a brick-and-mortar restaurant, said the existing lottery system can put successful food trucks in jeopardy of being forced to shut down.

“We shouldn’t penalize someone for succeeding,” Roberts said. “And I think that we should look a lot more into it than just trying to put it at the whim of a lottery where they don’t know from year to year to year what’s going to happen. … You might want to just start from scratch and just decide something new on this. But taking the time to listen to the restaurants, especially on the highway near these locations, I think would be very important moving forward. And maybe they can even have some ideas of what we can do to resolve this to make it fair to them.”

Council member Bill Ott also spoke against the lottery system.

“I don’t think we’re we should thwart the entrepreneurial spirit of those people who want to offer food service for not only our citizens, but also our thousands and thousands of visitors,” Ott said. “And I think that by limiting it to the lottery, I think we’re doing that.”

“I agree with the others, and I think we need to have that input and restructure the whole ordinance, I think,” McClung said. “I think Mr. Roberts is right on that, and Mr. Ott as well. … You know, listen, let’s make something better.”

After Ott made a motion to have a public hearing on the issue, city clerk Ann Armstrong interjected to say that a proposed ordinance to add three food truck lottery spots on Highways 62 and 23 South would actually create more spots than food-truck applications the city has received.

“And so the proposed ordinance fills the bill, so to speak,” Armstrong said. “And the second part is there are many other opportunities other than the lottery for food trucks.”

After Armstrong’s remarks, council member Melissa Greene seconded Ott’s motion to hold a public hearing on the topic at the next council meeting. The motion passed unanimously on a voice vote.

Also at Monday’s meeting, Greene apologized for remarks she made at the council’s Dec. 13 meeting regarding a lawsuit that Ott has filed against the city stemming from a dispute with the Historic District Commission over repairs made to his home after it was struck by a city truck that slipped out of gear in May 2021.

“It hurts when stuff is done. It hurts when commissioners and city council people and the mayor, when we’re attacked,” Greene said at the Dec. 13 meeting. “What do we make? Two thousand dollars a year? It’s not always worth that kind of money to put up with some of the abuse we put up with.”

On Monday, Greene said her comments at the Dec. 13 meeting were not in keeping with the council’s code of conduct adopted in 2020.

“ I want to apologize to the public. I did not practice that at the last meeting,” Greene said. “And I apologize and I’m sorry. It’s a very, to me, important thing that we are respectful to one another and we’re respectful to our public. … “It was important to kind of remind me, to bring it up and I do apologize for letting my anger get the best of me.”

The council did not vote on a 2022 city budget at Monday’s meeting, but did unanimously approve by voice vote a motion by McClung to include a line item for $12,000 for capital improvements at the Eureka Springs Cemetery.

The council is expected to vote on the 2022 budget at its next regular meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 24, at The Aud. That meeting will be live-streamed on YouTube.

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