Food truck tussle: Are new vending rules in Biltmore Village on the horizon?

photo by Max Cooper

A skirmish in Biltmore Village could have larger significance for food trucks.

While downtown has been the site of controversial regulations on vendors, outside of the central business district, food trucks have few and simple rules. Now a group of business owners and historic preservationists hopes to bring more substantial regulations to Biltmore Village.

“Using a food truck is really not in keeping with everything else that is required in the village,” Stan Collins, who owns Once Upon a Time toy store in Biltmore Village, told Xpress. “We have very stiff rules and regulations in terms of what you do.”

Collins attended an October meeting of the Historic Resources Commission to speak out against food trucks in the area. In November, the HRC held a second meeting to discuss Collins' concern. Food truck owners from all over Asheville attended that meeting. “I don't think there's any other business that's restricted in Biltmore Village,” said Nate Kelly of The Lowdown food truck.

After almost an hour of discussion and public comment, the Historic Resources Commission voted on the issue. The commissioners were nearly split down the middle about how to regulate food trucks. Five commissioners voted to allow them, but they wanted to create a revised permitting process with specific standards. Four commissioners voted to ban food trucks from the historic district except for special events. One member, UNCA history professor Tracey Rizzo, declined to vote. “I don't feel that my charge even extends to this matter,” she said.

The HRC does not have the power to change the food truck law outright, but its vote could influence City Council.

No one from the public spoke out against the food trucks, although several people voiced their support for them. “I come from New Jersey and New York where we have food trucks, and there's not a day that goes by in my discussions with my clients and what not that we don't talk about a knish or something off the cart,” said one commentator. “I think we need to be even-minded when it comes to people making a living.”

Food truck owners say that Biltmore Village is a small market for them as a group, but one truck in particular, Izzy's Coffee Truck, does a lot of business there. Jeremy Hargroves sets up his stand in the parking lot of the William & Grace children’s clothing store at the corner of Swan Street and Boston Way. He says he first came to the village at the recommendation of business owners. “The only complaint I've heard is when we're not there,” he said to the commission.

Suzy Phillips of Gypsy Queen Cuisine told Xpress she's concerned about the larger impact regulations in Biltmore Village could have. “I don't think there are enough people complaining,” she said. She worries a small number of influential people could create a “domino effect” all over town.

The HRC counters that their jurisdiction only extends to local historic districts: Biltmore Village, Montford and Albemarle Park. “There's a very limited amount of circumstances where this could possibly pertain,” said Jannice Ashley of the commission. “I don't think it would set precident. I don't think the HRC ever has to say, 'Oh, just because we ruled this way in this case, we're going to rule this way in this other.'”

Still, food truck owners bristle at additional food truck regulations on principle. What's more, City Council is reviewing the downtown food truck rules. It's been about a year since food trucks were allowed downtown, so council is taking feedback about the vendors from urban planners and business owners. Downtown's policy on food trucks is currently unrelated to that of Biltmore Village, but the two reviews are happening at the same time.

Food truck owners also worried about the specter of additional restrictions on vending in the River Arts District. Nate Kelly said he thinks the Biltmore Village scuffle is a small problem as long as it stays contained to that neighborhood, but he's bracing for future conflict. “It's not the last battle we're going to face,” he said.

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