Food trucks rolling into Fort Mill? Why it could happen soon, but hasn’t already.

Food trucks descend on Rock Hill ahead of packed 2017 schedule

Food Truck Fridays will begin May 19 and continue through the fall. The events are held every third Friday of the month at Fountain Park in Rock Hill.
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Food Truck Fridays will begin May 19 and continue through the fall. The events are held every third Friday of the month at Fountain Park in Rock Hill.

Fort Mill is making way for food trucks.

As town leaders continue pushing through the years-long overhaul of town zoning and land use rules, an increase in food truck activity has them picking that item out for fast tracking. The town planning commission got a look at a new rule Dec. 18. Town council has final say on whether to pass it.

The issue arose this spring when a bit of a Facebook food fight broke out after Amor Artis Brewing posted online there wouldn’t be any food trucks one week. The brewery, having opened a month prior, had organized food truck events but the town received calls about the traffic they created on Main Street.

Beer enthusiasts online criticized the town for not allowing the food trucks to help a business, and Mayor Guynn Savage for her response to the issue on the post. Savage stated the issue was a traffic one, relating to a South Carolina Department of Transportation rule on food trucks in the right-of-way.

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What came from the town looking into those traffic complaints was a realization. The town doesn’t have its own requirements on food trucks.

“The department of transportation had indicated there was an issue,” Savage said in March during the Amor Artis incident, “so then we began looking at our regulations (on food trucks) and we found that we did not have an ordinance that addresses that, and we are developing one.”

The new Fort Mill rule would set up a process for approving and permitting food trucks, and requirements for them. The rule aims, as it’s written, to protect “public health, safety and general welfare, while also accommodating entrepreneurial activity.”

The rule makes it illegal to operate a food truck in town without prior town approval. Food trucks would have to apply for each location it intends to operate.

Food trucks would be allowed on property zoned for commercial, mixed-use or industrial use. The town permit and health department inspection report require prominent display. Permits would be renewed annually.

They wouldn’t be allowed to sell alcohol. They’d be open 8 a.m.-9 p.m., except on Friday and Saturday nights when they could run to midnight. They couldn’t sell non-food items, except for merchandise with the logo or branding of the food vendor itself.

Food trucks wouldn’t be allowed within 200 feet of a restaurant, unless the owner of that restaurant approves. They can’t obstruct traffic, including parking lot circulation. They can’t block a street, alley or sidewalk.

Canopies, seating, tables, grills and projecting signs wouldn’t be allowed. Nor would “offensive or loud noise to attract customers or advertise products,” according to the proposed rule.

Food trucks have to stay at least 100 foot away from any residences. They couldn’t operate on undeveloped property, either. Nor could trucks be left on sites overnight.

There are provisions for special circumstances.

The annual South Carolina Strawberry Festival has numerous food trucks at Walter Elisha Park that stay overnight.

Food trucks have become more common in recent years. Events like the Strawberry Festival in Fort Mill, Food Truck Friday events in downtown Rock Hill and Food Truck Rally nights in Tega Cay are routine.

Even the Community Cafe, which offers weekly free meals in Fort Mill and Lake Wylie, has been working for the past couple of years to get a food truck to take meals into areas of need throughout York County. Earlier this month Don Murfin, founder and head chef at the Cafe, announced HIS Daily Spread would hit the road by early January.

“The 30-day countdown has officially started toward getting the truck on the road,” Murfin announced in a message to volunteers and stakeholders Dec. 2.

Like Fort Mill, other municipalities have to consider the nuts and bolts of having food trucks. Last year Rock Hill changed its zoning laws to allow food trucks. The city allowed them as part of special events, at areas pedestrian drawing pedestrian traffic and along with craft breweries or large retailers.

There was concern at the time about whether allowing food trucks would be unfair to restaurants, which pay property taxes. At the time, Rock Hill’s planning and development director said allowing trucks would create buzz around certain destinations in the city.

“It’s the community asking for it,” Meyer said at the time, “not the vendor.”

Katie Quinn, spokesperson for the city, said Food Truck Friday events have grown in recent years after long lines at initial gatherings showed public interest. The city worked to bring in more trucks. She also manages the city tourism and visitor information page rockhillrocks.com.

“We get requests all the time from vendors who are interested in participating in that,” Quinn said.

The first Food Truck Friday had six trucks. Now about 4,000 people attend each event, May through November, with six new trucks rotating in each time to keep the menus fresh.

“We have 28 food trucks each time, and there is a waiting list each time,” Quinn said. “At this point we don’t really have to drum up business with food trucks.”

As was the case this past spring in Fort Mill, at least part of what stirred change on food truck rules in Rock Hill involved breweries. When York County tourism leaders announced the YoCo Brew Trail in September, seven breweries or cider spots participated. Most are located in Rock Hill. Others have opened since or are near openings in Rock Hill.

“Some of the breweries didn’t serve food and they looked at food trucks as a way to have some food options for people,” Quinn said. “That was some of the impetus behind what we did.”

What the municipalities don’t regulate is the health and cleanliness requirements. The state health department regulates those elements as it does with brick and mortar restaurants.

“There’s very specific guidelines,” Quinn said.

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