By CATHERINE KOZAK
Food trucks can now operate in unincorporated Dare County, but potential owners are hardly storming the gates to take advantage of the new opportunity.
Despite mostly positive responses and expressed interest from some entrepreneurs at public meetings held earlier this year, no one has yet come forward to seek a permit, says Dare County Planning Director Donna Creef.
“I haven’t had anybody make a formal application,” she said on Thursday.
But Steve Bonney and his wife Sue, owners of Stu’s Donuts which shares a space with Ketch 55 Seafood Grill in Avon, says he’ll be submitting an application in the coming weeks for a food truck serving cold sodas, gourmet hot dogs and North Carolina BBQ.
“That’s all we’re planning on right now,” he says. “But the menu will evolve and change with time. We’ll be up in the front lot where we originally intended to be.”
After a public hearing at its regular meeting on March 19, the Dare County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to approve a revision of a zoning amendment that allows food trucks in unincorporated Dare County, as long as they are associated with a food commissary.
With the revision, a food truck no longer has to be associated with a restaurant at its site, as the original zoning amendment had required. The units are subject to health department regulations and site plan approvals.
All eight speakers – who included Bonney - supported the zoning change, saying it could diversify food offerings for visitors and give eateries more opportunities.
“It was a great public hearing,” Creef says, “because there were local restaurants speaking in favor of it.”
In the past, there was concern that food trucks would cut into local restaurant traffic, and that the small operations had unfair advantages in overhead costs and taxes. But the growing popularity of the mobile eateries nationwide has come to make food trucks be seen less as competition, and more as an opportunity to expand and attract new customers.
The new zoning rules apply only to unincorporated Dare County: Hatteras Island, Manns Harbor, East Lake, Mashoes, Colington Island, and areas of Roanoke Island outside of Manteo.
Elsewhere in the county, each municipality regulates the use of food trucks through its own zoning rules. Nags Head, for instance, permits the mobile eateries at special events and is considering to allow more of them. But in general, food trucks on the Outer Banks have been few and far between. Eduardo’s Taco Truck on Ocracoke Island, parked by the Variety Store, and Taqueria Las Ahumaderas, parked near Sting Wray’s restaurant in Rodanthe, have been popular with tourists in the last several years.
Last summer, the Bonneys had purchased a food truck and had planned to sell hand-made donuts and hots dogs out of it, while parked at Ketch 55’s lot. But the Planning Board informed the couple that the zoning rules would not permit them to operate.
In working to address the Bonneys’ situation last year, Creef had said then that it was evident that food trucks were defined differently, depending on whether it was an older or newer zoning district.
The new zoning makes the rule consistent in the unincorporated areas.
With written approval from the property owner, a single “mobile food unit” is permitted on land in conjunction with a commercial structure or use. A food stand, whether permanent or mobile, may provide outdoor seating for up to eight people. A restroom must be available for the public to use if seating is provided. Parking for ten vehicles must also be available, but they can be in place for an existing business as long as the hours do not overlap.
Bonney says that, with the exception of some online comments, he’s heard only positive feedback from the community, and he expects to see more food trucks opening up on Hatteras Island.
“I think it’s something that will grow,” he says. “There is plenty of room for all of us. I think we’re all in this together.”