Town’s taco trucks in jeopardy
Update to story 1/26/08: Mayor Chilton posts a clarification, outline of the zoning issues and possible solutions offered by town planners on Orange Politics. Link.
After receiving an anonymous complaint, Carrboro officials notified three property owners that so-called “taco trucks” parked on their properties are not in compliance with local zoning rules and will need to cease operations.
The owners of Fitch Lumber, Cliff’s Meat Market and Johnny’s Sporting Goods were notified by letter last week that allowing the trucks to operate on their property puts them in violation of the town’s zoning ordinances. They were given seven days to shut down the trucks or face action from the town. The letter, dated January 17, stated that the businesses could appeal the decision through the town’s board of adjustment, a process that requires a $250 filing fee.
Marty Roupe, the town’s development review administrator, said typically investigations of zoning compliance are driven by complaints from the public. Recently, he said, the town received a voice message complaining about the trucks, which offer a range of traditional taqueria fare such as tacos, tamales, sopas and enchiladas along with some more exotic specialties such as beef tongue.
The trucks, which operate mainly on weekend evenings, have grown in popularity and have won the praises of food writers for their authenticity.
Roupe said it was unfortunate that the person who called in the complain did not leave a number where they could be reached, but that since it was a formal complaint the town was required to follow up on it.
Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton said he only recently became aware of the complaint with the trucks and the request by the town that they be shut down. He said he hoped that a solution could be found to keep them thriving.
“I think the taco trucks are a great local business that a lot of people like and benefit from,” Chilton wrote in an email response to an inquiry by The Citizen. “I want to find a way that they can sell their tacos and comply with the town’s ordinances.”
Board of Aldermen member Jacquie Gist said she was unhappy to see the action taken on the basis of an anonymous complaint, saying it makes it hard to understand why the complaint was filed and what its motivation was.
“I am very worried by the real possibility that hard working entrepreneurs who are adding to our community could be put out of business and have their livelihood threatened. It is un-American and certainly un-Carrboro. If Carrboro can not offer a welcoming home to immigrants trying to achieve the American Dream then maybe I don’t know Carrboro as well as I think I do,” she wrote in an email response to The Citizen, adding that she had confidence that the town would find a workable solution.
Cliff Collins, owner of Cliff’s Meat Market, said he would likely file an appeal if necessary to keep the trucks in operation.
“I guess I understand both sides,” he said. “I don’t want to hurt anybody’s business. But I really think these trucks are an asset to our downtown.”
Collins said the trucks operate mainly at night and stay open later than most food establishments, adding to the vitality of the nightlife.
Mac Fitch said he has never had any complaints or known of any trouble with the truck that’s parked at Fitch Lumber for about a year. “I’ve had absolutely no problem,” he said, adding that he doesn’t understand why the town sent him the letter. “I don’t know why they’re dragging me into it.” Fitch said the gentleman who runs the truck dropped by Fitch Lumber Wednesday and was given a copy of the letter. He said he has heard that the taco truck was quite popular and hoped that any dispute with the town is worked out.
The trucks are permitted to sell food by the Orange County Health Department as long as they are working in conjunction with an approved and inspected commissary, according to Tom Konsler, Orange County’s Environmental Health Supervisor.