Rogers, Lowell prioritize food truck courts

Posted: March 20, 2017 at 1 a.m.

Customers sit in front of food trucks March 8 at the Yacht Club on College Avenue in Fayetteville. Recently Rogers and Lowell planning commissions have approved various rules needed to establish food truck courts in those cities.

Rogers and Lowell hope to usher in new entrepreneurs by establishing mobile vendor areas and food truck courts. The cities recently started to work on policies regulating vendors and hearing individuals' proposals for such areas.

Fayetteville and Bentonville have had ordinances for some time establishing areas for food truck businesses.

Finding food trucks in Northwest Arkansas

• Rogers food trucks are scattered throughout the city: El Lagunero Lonches operates sometimes at the Downtown Rogers Farmers Market at 101 E. Cherry St.; Johnny V’s America’s Favorite Sandwiches at 2114 S. Eighth St.; Rockin’ Pig Saloon at 2407 W. Hudson Road; Taqueria La Herradura at 436-494 N. 24th St. and Pop’s Hog Wild Barbecue 318 W. Walnut St.

• Lowell has a single food truck. La Carreta serves Mexican food at 521 S. Bloomington St.

• Fayetteville has two main areas: a court of four establishments at the 600 block of College Avenue across from Starlight Skatium, and on Dickson Street between West and Campbell avenues.

• Several Bentonville food trucks are on A Street.

Source: Staff report

"This is something we're sorely needing," Joe Rheingans said to the Lowell Planning Commission at a meeting in late February. Rheingans filed a request to place a food truck court at 405 S. Bloomington St., which is in the overlay district. The court would be a concrete pad for the trucks' rental spaces and outfitted with electricity, water and waste disposal.

"It would generate sales tax by where the business is, it's good for the city and would be a park-like setting of good quality with picnic tables so people can sit and eat together," Rheingans said.

Commissioners struggled to develop guidelines for such establishments since the court would be the first in the city. Some city officials endorsed the project during a public hearing.

"Some people tell me it's a fad, but it's extremely popular in other cities that have them," said Linda Vannoy, a Lowell Ordinance Committee member, of food trucks. Vannoy stressed it would be a low-risk endeavor. "If the truck isn't popular, it won't stay. There's one food truck on (U.S.) 71B, and it's always packed. Go to Bentonville food trucks on a Sunday and it's a crowd.

"Whatever it is, it's working."

Commissioner James Milner agreed with Vannoy and admitted he had dinner at a food truck shortly before the meeting.

Lowell Mayor Eldon Long showed enthusiasm for the possibility of business growth in the city.

"We need more choice in restaurants," Long said. "I know half a dozen accounts of restaurants in Northwest Arkansas that started with vending trailers and grew to need sit-down restaurants. Some multiplied themselves several times. From the economic development standpoint, it makes sense."

Long thinks a central area for food trucks would be ideal to "give the city ambiance, a neat experience." He said food trucks will have to adhere to state food safety standards.

Commission Chairman Mitch Wright said a permanent food truck court would have a place in the city, it was just a matter of working out in which districts to allow it and what requirements or restrictions they should have.

"I wouldn't mind having a food court, if it were developed in the right spot," Wright said.

Kris Sullivan, Lowell planning and economic development director, said food trucks have been permitted in the city's commercial zone. At the Feb. 23 meeting, City Attorney Thomas Kieklak led the commission through the process of amending the overlay district, which encompasses many zones, to also permit food truck establishments.

Rheingans' food truck court still has more planning processes to go through, but the amendment of the overlay district paved the way for him and others with similar establishments.

Lowell plans to look at the policies established in Bentonville and Fayetteville.

Fayetteville has two main areas where food truck businesses congregate, including a court that often holds four establishments at the 600 block of College Avenue across from Starlight Skatium, and on Dickson Street between West and Campbell avenues. Several Bentonville food trucks remain on A Street.

Bentonville mobile vendors and food truck owners must apply for a permit from the Planning Department, submit to an inspection by the Benton County Health Department (if they sell food or drink) and register to pay an Advertising and Promotion tax and pay a fee, according to city code.

Vendors aren't allowed in residential areas, but are permitted in several other areas. City code is careful to exclude any sidewalk sales, magazine stands and any individual's distribution of free goods. Mobile vendors must apply for their permits with each year.

Fayetteville ordinances address many of the same concerns. Mobile vendors must apply for either a six-month or annual permit, submit a $100 processing fee and show proof of paid hotel, motel and restaurant tax, according to city code, unless they are operating in a vendor court. If a vendor is part of a court, they provide permits by the state and county health authorities.

In Fayetteville, limited-time permits are also an option, and owners must renew permits for each new location. Vendors must provide a certain number of parking spaces, which is determined by the use and size of its business. Vendor courts have to submit detailed plans, make property improvements and provide restrooms, even if it's through a shared use agreement with a neighboring business.

Rogers to this point has only had a few food trucks scattered around the city.

Rogers' Planning Commission in late February approved plans for four food trucks and two mobile retail vendors to park and operate at a former service station at 623 W. Walnut St. Ashley and Jeff Keesling of Jammer Dorm are remodeling the property for the food truck court. The location will have outdoor seating and the station will serve beer and wine.

The couple considered operating a food truck themselves, but realized if they opened one, there would be no place to put it in Rogers.

"Our friends who owned food trucks had poor experiences and were driving from Beaver Lake all the way into Bentonville to run their business because it was hard to find a place in Rogers," Ashley Keesling said.

It took the Keeslings two years to bring their idea to fruition. They acquired the building in May and first applied for its permit in August. Now with the city's all-clear, they are hopeful to have the mobile vendor court running by the end of the year if the station's renovation is completed.

Rogers food trucks will need a permit from the city, a Rogers business license and a certificate from the Arkansas Department of Health.

NW News on 03/20/2017