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Leesburg nixes food trucks downtown, at breweries

Leesburg Town Council let a discussion about allowing food trucks in the business districts die Monday night after a 3-3 vote.

After permitting food trucks to serve Leesburg’s industrial districts last month, council considered expanding the zoning ordinance to allow food trucks to operate on private property in the business districts, including the Crescent Design District and downtown. Council decided to postpone a vote at that time, based on concerns that food trucks would compete with brick-and-mortar businesses.

On Monday, Zoning Administrator Christopher Murphy reported the Economic Development Commission’s take on the matter, including the feasibility of a one-year trial. While the commission was concerned about food trucks’ appearance clashing with the historic downtown and potential competition with established restaurants, it said they might be a viable option.

“Upfront costs for establishing brick and mortar restaurants are very high,” Murphy read from the report. “Mobile food units are good for testing the market, so to speak.”

Because allowing food trucks in the business districts would mean a change in the zoning ordinance, council would have had to advertise a public hearing. Vice Mayor Suzanne Fox and Councilmembers Vanessa Maddox and Ron Campbell voted for the public hearing; Mayor Kelly Burk and Concilmembers Fernando Martinez and Tom Dunn voted against. The vote failed for lack of a majority.

Up until Monday, several Leesburg businesses have invited food trucks onto their properties, and Town Manager Kaj Dentler held these violations in abeyance. Now that council seems to have decided against the issue, Dentler said Monday that future violations will be enforced.

Phil Fust, owner of Loudoun Brewing Company, has invited food trucks onto his Leesburg property nearly every weekend for months.

“I think [council’s decision] is ridiculously stupid,” Fust said. “It’s going to affect our business.”

Some customers have already told Fust that they plan to go elsewhere because they don’t want to drink on empty stomachs, and that the food trucks were a major draw.

When asked about the situation of Leesburg breweries like Fust’s, Mayor Burk said that she would have been willing to consider allowing food trucks outside downtown, adding that she voted against the measure because it would have allowed trucks into the historic district.

“I can understand [the breweries’] concern,” she said, suggesting that in lieu of food trucks, breweries could build symbiotic relationships with neighboring restaurants.


When it comes to the optics of issues like this and many other issues that confront the Mayor and Council they tend to handle them very poorly. It does give the optics that the Town of Leesburg is not business friendly at all….IMHO

All should read the Town Council’s December 11-12 Agenda item on this topic (“Tab 02”).  Precisely “how” the permitted use was being vetted is quite important to understand the ‘argument’, and this article pretty much washes over what was presented, recommended, considered, and ultimately not acted upon.

The Planning Commission recommended 6-0-1 that mobile food vendors be permitted BY RIGHT (that’s permanent) uses in the “B” districts (among other zoning districts/areas).  When Council approved the Ordinance in November (for the first time making mobile food vendors permitted uses (“ie by right”), whereas till then they’d only been allowed as Temporary Uses or as part of a Special Event permit event), in their deliberation of the topic they seem to have left open the door for the “B” districts, but the type of permission revised to a Temporary Use Permit (rather than By Right).  One must get in the weeds of the Staff item to realize that a Temporary Use Permit is 1 year approval (open for renewal, no mention of the number of renewals possible). 

So it boils down to, do you view one year permission, eligible for unlimited renewals [possibly, would have to check w staff on that, but I’m guessing it is discretionary] as “permanent” or not.  The nature of a mobile food vendor who is not hard-plumbed to a site obviously makes it eligible to ‘come and go’ back to the approved site.  But the Temp Use Permit allows it to be there “permanently”, ie not mobile, not moving, not temporary unless you categorize time in units of years.

So, Local, your opinions about the business plans of random and various mobile food vendors may prove out, but I’m concerned with what the law would, and would not, minimally required, because that IS governance. Whimsy is as whimsy does.

Securing permission to be at a site in Leesburg, and then one in Round Hill, and then one in Reston, and then one in Warrenton, that is great for that mobile food vendor. But the B&M restaurants near those sites, have no such advantage of mobility to chase the customers.

Robert_Q_Smith - where do you see that they want to be “permanent”? I don’t see that in the story anywhere. Rather, the businesses are hoping to have the “perpetual” right to bring in food trucks, on a rotating basis, as opposed to only being allowed to use them for special events.

I don’t think anyone wants/expects/has requested the right to permanently station a given truck in one spot. In fact, I’d wager that the majority of food truck operators would not be interested in such an arrangement.

I think you’re arguing against something that nobody’s even arguing for…

Reading comprehension helps understand the situation at hand here.

The Council’s action was to do nothing - there was no “rule change”. They voted to NOT change the currently existing zoning regulations regarding what zoning districts mobile food vendors can be in. The question was asked (to change, expand the districts to allow them in more places), and it was turned down. Period. And for the same reasons, purposes, and justifications as for when the particular ‘rules’ were initially written.

There is a place and a time for mobile food vendors. Permanently placing them in locations where they can/could directly compete with b&m restaurants is not the proper place for them. It defeats the first word in their title - ‘mobile’.

End of story. Next crisis, please.

omg, those who consider this a blue vs red issue need to get a grip.stop blaming party politics on EVERYTHING.

I’m sorry, but I have to laugh. This is LITERALLY the Net Neutrality argument playing out with food trucks.

Leesburg “owns” roads and controls whatever permitting system is required.

Existing businesses don’t want the additional competition, so they lobby for a rule change. They win. Only difference is they aren’t rich enough to hire lobbyists to make low-information voters think it’s all in the name of FREEDOM.

If you are looking for a great example of what your Internet will look like in a few years, you now have it. How strange that “anti-regulation” arguments have been used to suppress free market. It’s not really funny at all. But if you can’t laugh at blatant ideological stupidity, what can you laugh at?

I too believe garyb is spot-on.

I am a fan of food trucks but for those that argue it is good competition, it is not.  The expense on brick and mortar restaurants is extremely high to include rents, electric, sewage and waste removal.  I always appreciate the food trucks and will only visit vineyards and breweries that offer them for the reason stated in the article, not a fan of drinking on an empty stomach.  So the issue is truly a clash of interests and not the easy decision some make it out to be.

LTwolf, you do know the difference between a 24-48 hour special event, and the permanent permitting process in question for the mobile food vendors, right? You couldn’t be making a worse comparison. It’s not even a comparison - it’s an acknowledgement that Mobile food vendors have a place in the food and hospitality world - specifically, special unique crowd-drawing events, and one-time (though, can be recurring) locations like a farm brewery on a weekend day for instance. That is where the mobility of the mobile food vendor is optimized. Placing one down in a permanent location, where it ceases to be mobile, in close proximity to the B&M investment properties, is inherently fostering an unfair environment. You’ll retort “survival of the fittest”, right. Well w/ a fraction of the overhead and hard costs of the B&M, the mobile vendor will win, and if it doesn’t, it can pack up and move to a more profitable site. The B&M cannot. The B&M must continue to pay the bills regardless of revenue. The B&M will go out of business not due to natural selection from other B&Ms;, but by the poaching of revenue by the mobile vendor.

This was a smart decision. And remember, nothing was “taken away” - the question was to GIVE the new zoning district allowance to the mobile food vendor use, and it was not. So the status quo stays. 

As for those mobile vendors that have been operating - they have been breaking the law (“rule of law” recall). They were given much abeyance when they needn’t be, as a courtesy to see if the Town wished to make their illegal activities legal. The answer was no; they need to cease and desist.

If a food truck is going to put a brick and mortar restaurant out of business, I think it was heading out anyway! Good competition makes everyone step up their game. And in case the supervisors haven’t figured this out - if you don’t have lots of options for food and drink, no one comes to shop either!

Once again the Town of Leesburg government proves to be anti business.  Why the citizens of the town keep electing these mental midgets is beyond me.

garyb is spot-on.

Virginia has made the decision that they want to be a Blue state so its time to start accepting the consequences. Expect to see more and more government intervention and increased taxes. See this story and the Airbnb story.

Food trucks are competition to those with brick & mortar locations. It is obvious which side Government is coming down on. Reduced competition on means higher prices for the consumer (under the guise of safety to sell it).

Burke can’t resist her impulse for a command-and-control economy : thou shall eat this and thou shall like it!

When politicians vote to protect their own friends’ business interests, you know it’s completely corrupt. Good thing I don’t live in leesburg. Won’t be eating there much either.

So no food trucks because they compete with brick and mortar restaurants.  Also, their appearance doesn’t fit the historic district.  OK, using that rationale then the town/county will no longer have food vendors at any of the downtown events.  No food vendors at the Leesburg Flower and Garden show, Fine Arts show, car show, and every other little event they shut downtown for.  You can’t have it both ways.  Maybe you need to start enforcing the clearance rule for sidewalk dining also.  You know, make it a pleasant experience to walk, not eat downtown.  King street has gotten terrible.  At least the cold weather will give us a winter break.

I think Fust and the few other Brewer’s should continue to operate as they pose no threat to existing business unless McDonald’s is concerned. Ironically, the EDC, Steering Committee, and the Town as a whole wants to promote new business, but they are killing off small ventures like this while giving the same smaller Developers breaks. I say when Kaj enforces the rules, team up with the lawyer who has been waiting for this to happen.

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