Updated Oct. 9 at 7:03 p.m. to include outcome of Georgetown City Council vote
As a line formed next to the John Mueller Black Box Barbecue trailer in downtown Georgetown on a recent afternoon, customers munched on brisket and homemade sausage on picnic tables set up on a nearby lawn.
Black Box, located at 201 E. Ninth St., Georgetown, is the sole regularly operated food truck vendor in Georgetown after years of changing policies have left several food truck operators frustrated.
Georgetown City Council voted 5-0 to adopt a new mobile food vendor code Tuesday with council members Anna Eby and Steve Fought absent.
Planning Director Sofia Nelson said she believes the new code will encourage more businesses to come to Georgetown.
“[The ordinance] will allow for predictability and clarity,” Nelson said. “This is our attempt to clarify requirements and create a real straightforward procedure.”
John Mueller, who opened Black Box with fiancée Mitzi Gomez in spring 2017, said that although the establishment will open a permanent restaurant by the end of 2018 or in early 2019, he believes food trucks bring a sense of community to Georgetown.
“I think there’s a place for [food trucks in Georgetown]for sure; people like them,” he said.
The new policy
Council members directed the city’s planning department to begin working on proposed policy changes in July 2017.
Nelson said that after more than a year’s worth of workshops, stakeholder meetings and online surveys, she believes the new code will help identify and classify different types of vendors.
“We took the time to look at how food trucks are used in the community and looked at how food trucks have an impact on [their]surroundings,” Nelson said.
The city’s previous vendor permit policy only gave temporary-use permits that were not to exceed 90 days. This policy placed all trucks in the same category regardless of [their]purpose, Nelson said.
However, the previous policy was inconsistent. Only six permits were handed out to mobile vendor businesses over the last 5 years, according to city documents obtained by Community Impact Newspaper through a public records request.
Nelson said the vagueness in the code led to difficulty in interpretation and changing requirements. The new policy will be a lot more clear, she said.
The new policy looks to simplify the process by categorizing vendors into three categories—primary, secondary and transient use—depending on type and length of time they will be on-site.
Primary-use vendors—food trucks that would have one permanent location—would be required to get a special-use permit with the city. The food truck must also have electric, water and wastewater connections and a completed site plan.
Secondary-use vendors—trucks that supplement a primary brick-and-mortar establishment—can receive a one-year temporary permit. The vendor will not be required to have a site plan, but it can only operate while the primary establishment is open, must meet code parking requirements and have connection to electric services.
Transient-use vendors—trucks that are only on-site for an event—do not require a permit but can only operate Thursday through Sunday and only when the primary establishment is open.
All permits will be handled through the planning departments and complaints will be funneled through Georgetown Code Enforcement. The new permit policy only affects the Georgetown portion of required paperwork and inspections.
Along with city permits, food truck operators must obtain a Williamson County and Cities Health District permit, have the truck inspected by the fire department, obtain permission from the property owner where the truck will be and have trailer inspected on-site, Nelson said.
Nelson added that the new policy will allow for more oversight of the trucks in the city and where they are located to ensure trucks will not negatively affect local businesses or residents.
“We look for compatibility,” Nelson said, “[including]hours of operation, noise levels and lights.”
Greg Windham, owner of the former San Gabriel Food Park located behind the Sonic restaurant on Morrow Street, said he began developing the property about six years ago.
Windham said that even in working with the city to develop the property to the city’s specifications, requirements were constantly changing, which made it difficult for the food park to turn a profit.
Windham opened the park in spring 2014 and sold the lot in summer 2018. The park, now unused and overgrown with weeds, is slated for redevelopment into a condominium project, Windham said.
He said the experience has led him to second-guess if he will open another business in the city.
“It hasn’t been fun; it hasn’t been enjoyable,” Windham said.
Rob Redick of Je Suis Coffee closed his coffee-roasting business in July, about one year after Je Suis added a mobile coffee truck to park in a small lot near its office and production facility in downtown Georgetown. Redick said closing of the business was not directly related to the current city food truck permitting policy, but it did play a role in the decision.
“I just kind of removed myself from it,” Redick said. “It became very difficult to stay motivated.”
Nelson said her office has made a point to include local food truck operators in drafting new city policy and listen to any challenges and frustrations that new rules might address.
“Mobile food vendors are assets, and a standard permitting process is a way to encourage small businesses to come to the area,” Nelson said.