Food trucks serve meals, with a side of controversy

Most lauded the gathering of local food trucks at the Virginia Historical Society, but not everyone thinks the Food Truck Court is a good thing

On Tuesday and Friday evenings, the Virginia Historical Society’s parking lot is packed with people. But they aren’t lining up to see the latest exhibits. They’re gathered in the parking lot with tables, blankets, and dogs, eating everything from burritos and Thai food to ice cream and cupcakes.

Since March, a dozen food trucks have gathered outside the VHS twice a week, serving dinner to residents of the surrounding areas and beyond. Food Truck Court, as it’s called, has drawn rave reviews from customers, but it has caused some controversy in the neighborhood nearby. One resident has complained that the food trucks violate a city ordinance and should be prohibited.

Food Truck Court is scheduled to last until Labor Day. But because of the complaint, it might mimic Art 180’s exhibit on Monument Avenue, which was cut short because it violated the city code regulating signs in roadway medians.

The Richmond Department of Planning and Development was contacted through email on April 24th by C. Wayne Taylor, a blogger for the City Hall Review. He asked what ordinance permits Food Truck Court. Taylor believes the trucks violate a zoning ordinance: “The property is zoned R-6 – Residential (Single Family Attached), which does not list the activity as an allowed use,” he wrote.

On May 11th, the planning department responded to Taylor’s email, but didn’t answer his question. Taylor then contacted the mayor’s office; his question remains unanswered.

Some food truck operators are not threatened by Taylor’s attempt to have them barred from the VHS. Patrick Harris, the chef and operator of Boka Truck, said the VHS seems fine with having food retailers on its private property. He believes that everyone is following the property-vendor law. Some food truck operators, however, are concerned by the prospect that they might be barred from the VHS parking lot.

Neil Stevens, the chef of Sustenance, serves food made with local products. He was unaware anyone was trying to put an end to Food Truck Court and finds this disturbing. “Food Truck Court has been essential to my success, making up about a quarter of my business,” Stevens said. “Just over a year ago, I started the Sustenance truck to improve my family’s quality of life.”

Mark Ryan, a Food Truck Court regular, said he would be upset if the vendors are forced out before Labor Day. “It’s great for a lot of folks,” Ryan said. “There’s a variety, and it’s all local. It’s ridiculous. I don’t know how it’s bothering anybody.”

As Taylor tries to put the brakes on the Food Truck Court at the VHS, the vendors have been invited to other locations. Last week, Harris and other food truck operators announced that they have permission to offer the Food Truck Court at Chesterfield Towne Center. The trucks will offer their tasty wares at that location from 6 to 9 p.m. on Wednesdays, beginning in mid-July.


photo by Capital News Service

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Chelsea Gantt

Notice: Comments that are not conducive to an interesting and thoughtful conversation may be removed at the editor’s discretion.

  1. C. Wayne Taylor does a lot of good things in monitoring the City of Richmond, but I think this one is off the mark. If it is in violation, then the law or ordinance that it is violating is the problem. We need to have more fun and positive things allowed in the city, not less. We need to allow for more small businesses (and the people who support them) a chance to grow and survive. I applaud the city and VHS for allowing the Food Court to take place.

  2. FredInRVA on said:

    This is precisely why zoning is such a ridiculously constrictive tool for a dynamic, mixed-use urban environment.

  3. Sean Yeager on said:

    Because putting money into local businesses in the current economic climate is a very very bad thing.

  4. Brett on said:

    Don’t even sweat it, there are lots of locations around town that would love to host this event. I would like it better if it was on a location rotation anyway. Spread the love.

  5. I wonder if that law truly applies to the VHS property, which is definitely not (Single Family Attached) home. They hold public meetings, charge for lectures and sell books in their gift shop. If it does apply then City Council should grant a variance. If it gets out of control with noise and trash, then they can rescind it.

    Laws have a purpose and we ignore them at our peril, but they also need to be flexible and applied with common sense. Courts these days frown on common sense. This ends up creating a lot of bad law and legal headaches.

  6. schlep on said:

    ? – Nobody in the neighborhood is actually complaining, but a guy who writes a blog questions whether it is technically compliant with zoning laws? This seems to be a non-story, I hope the City ignores him and people can just get on with doing something that makes them happy, for a change. Here’s an idea for our new city slogan – “LET US DO FUN STUFF” (or even just “LET US”)

  7. schlep on said:

    Oh wait, I’m sorry. ONE resident has complained.

  8. Long live the Food Truck Court!!

  9. Jen Rooster Cart on said:

    Of all the things that need our attention in this city, this victim of boredome is making it his mission to put a stop to the EVIL FOOD TRUCK COURT that dares SERVE FOOD peacefully to HAPPY CUSTOMERS. Bravo sir, you are a true hero.

  10. Mark on said:

    Agree strongly with the theme of these comments.

    I would imagine that the neighborhood around the museum is familiar with there being traffic in the museum’s parking lot. It is, after all, a museum parking lot. It is separated from any homes by tree-lined buffers. It is on private property, with ample parking for visitors.

    I hope City Council ignores this nonsense, and allows a dozen or so local businesses to continue to play their trades and support the local economy in peace.

  11. Roger Talbott on said:

    I’m not sure that a complaint from one guy who gets his kicks combing over decades old SUPs and zoning ordinances for errors and inconsistencies constitutes controversy. Just the outing of this person as a stick in the mud.

  12. Boka's Pork Belly on said:

    Don’t worry C. Wayne Taylor, I fully support your efforts. I had fun once too and it was an awful experience.

  13. It’s neurotic political garbage like this which keeps Richmond from becoming anything more than a stifled and stunted little city with too much potential.

  14. Alix bryan on said:

    Wonder what he thought about a wine festival there over the weekend.
    I saw his post and letter awhile ago (he sent it to all local media I think) and decided not to write about it.
    This is petty stuff and it always seems like one complaint gets the ball of fail rolling.

  15. Jennifer C. on said:

    Wishing death on someone who raises a legitimate, if not particularly welcome, question about zoning is puerile. As Brett says, there are plenty of places the food court can set up, and it might be better not to put all the parking pressure in one spot twice a week.

  16. Hugh Jarse on said:

    Jennifer, I live near the museum and I don’t know that I’d use the term “parking pressure” to describe theses events. I don’t believe I’ve seen a terribly large increase in neighborhood vehicular traffic/parking- certainly less traffic than many of the VMFA Picasso days.

    But this is what Richmond does: take a successful event enjoyed by many and blow it all to hell because one person gets his panties knotted up.

  17. I dunno if this will be read by Mr. Taylor (as his site does not allow commenting on articles), but Mr. Taylor, you should be ashamed of yourself.

    I would understand if there were riots, fights, multiple complaints, anger, and alcohol, but what’s so different in this scenario than them being downtown, serving happy customers with good food at lunchtime? Oh, wait… I guess I shouldn’t have said that – you’ll try to get people trying to make a living with their food trucks to go out of business.

    You do realize that this is not hurting a soul, correct? You do realize that this is bringing more modern conveniences to this city, which are desperately needed? You do realize that your questions not only hurt the food trucks, but also the VHS? Whether or not it’s zoned for this use or not, there is no reason to question it, unless you have some massive chip on your shoulder (which I would suggest you remove immediately).

  18. Lisa D. on said:

    Why can’t this city have anything innovative and fun without someone whining about it and trying to shut it down?

  19. Mike on said:

    I think this phrase is the problem. “He asked what ordinance permits Food Truck Court.”

    Shouldn’t it be “what ordinance PROHIBITS this activity”?

  20. Catherine on said:

    Per West of the Boulevard News, Mr. Taylor isn’t even a Museum or Fan District resident, but lives in the “Monument Avenue Park neighborhood near Staples Mill.” Ridiculous.

  21. Sam Davies on said:

    You can look up the various codes he cites here:

    I can’t really follow where he jumps from “Peddlers” to hotels and such.

  22. Mark on said:

    SHENANIGANS!! Detached residential zoning designation doesn’t apply to the area in which the food trucks are operating. The parking lot is the private property of the museum. Thus, whatever zoning designation that allows the museums to operate applies to the parking lot as well. Take your prozac, Mr. Taylor – don’t tilt at windmills.

  23. Sean Stilwell on said:

    This guy lives over near krispy kreme, per the city assessor…. let him complain about cookout or holiday inn. Stay out of the museum district!!!

  24. LC on said:

    As a Museum District resident, I can confirm that plenty of neighborhood residents are thrilled to host the food truck court. Further, I don’t know anyone who is outraged by it. I personally think it’s a great addition to the neighborhood, and should be allowed to continue. The vendors and patrons are tidy, respectful, and reasonably quiet. Unclench, Taylor.

  25. Stuart on said:

    Maybe the question is whether the food trucks are considered the “use” or if the parking lot itself is the “use” and only parking on it is permitted and no other activities.

  26. I think the Food Truck Court is a good idea, but City Hall must be held accountable for zoning the property “residential” and then ignoring the zoning. The city administration and city council could have rezone the property months ago and made the Food Truck Court legal, but they did nothing.
    Whenever I see City Hall violating the law I will continue challenge them on it.

  27. Paul on said:

    And if your effort squashes something that residents all over the city are enjoying, have you won anything? Maybe there are better ways to encourage change, Mr. Taylor.

  28. Optimistic on said:

    Maybe Mr. Taylor isnt a douche. Maybe he wants Richmond to have food truck courts and have legislation provide public property and other looser vending laws by bringing this to the attention of legislation so they can make provisions allowing more freedoms to food trucks. Given the current laws permitting private property vending, and the VHS already having retail on premise, he may not be trying to shut food truck court down, but instead bring to light an opportunity for more! Maybe we can even get legislation to make beer trucks allowed! If so, thanks Mr. T.

  29. Mark on said:

    Mr. Taylor,

    Interesting that you complain about something you think is a “good idea” because you think it might (or might not) violate zoning rules…even though, as the court is on private property, the zoning might not apply. This is evidenced by the city’s first response that peddlers on private property are restricted in the hours that they can operate, not in terms of whether vending is allowed.

    So, which outcome would you like?

    1) the city determines that you’re in the wrong, and this is all nonsense, or

    2) the city determines you’re correct, and shuts down something that is welcome in the community, accepted by the host, and (at least) tolerated but the majority of the neighbors. And harms a number of small businesses and business owners. And employees

    Which choice is better?

  30. FredInRVA on said:

    Hey Mr. Taylor, a food truck comes by my office park in Henrico County every Friday. My office park is not zoned for food service businesses. Are you going to hound the County into shutting them down too? Seriously, the city’s zoning system is an outdated and overly complex regulatory system that inhibits the kind of dynamic urban change that we need in this city. If you’re going to spend your time demanding every absurd regulation be followed instead of demanding that we get streamline or get rid of these cumbersome regulations then you are part of the problem. You’re wasting city staff time, wasting citizen’s time and more importantly making Richmond a less desirable place to live.

  31. anonymous on said:

    This is the sad case of a man who wishes he worked for local government but doesnt, so he stalks it. His site looks like a mock page from City Hall. Creepy.

  32. LRintheFan on said:

    I don’t understand Mr. Taylor how this hurts you? This is something that is enjoyed by many and helps small businesses. This isn’t Whoville and you aren’t the Grinch…so move on and leave it alone.

  33. GOOD GRIEF!!

  34. As a small business owner and Richmonder for the past 16 years I am thrilled by the support people are showing this community building event. This is the time for all of us who have complained about what Richmond is lacking to do something about it and I applaud my peers for having had the guts to do so. If we want a city that stands out as a unique environment to experi

  35. … experience culture, local businesses are the way to do so. I love these events (art walk, food truck cart, pods, wine festival, etc) and think this is how we come together to help support one another and create a better living experience. Long live the food truck court!

  36. ben on said:

    This is not very good journalism from Ms. Gantt. It appears as though she glazed over Mr. Taylor’s article, and then told the food cart guys this dude was trying to shut hem down, recorded their reaction, and then wrote this article about how popular food truck court is under attack. This article shows no attemt to contact the city council, mayors office, or Mr Taylor. Mr Taylor is not “trying to put the brakes on the food court” but rather trying to have consistency within city council. What is better for Richmond a food truck court(which seems highly unlikely to go anywhere due to lack of response to Taylor) or a city council that is bound to the law rather then how at times they currently operate which is to pick and choose when to uphold city ordinances. This does not appear to mimic the art 180 situation, this is the inverse of the situation. Art 180 did their due diligence to receive proper permits, and after permits were received and the art show went up, permits were then revoked (If you want to do some reaserch on that one, you can look at who donates money to samuels, and who lives on monument and figure out pretty quickly what happened there). Does the vmfa have permits to hold the food truck court? I don’t know the article does not say.

  37. David on said:

    Ben is right, Taylor’a point is that City Council needs to observe city ordinances as they are written. It is of no use to anyone to have a local government that follows laws only at its

  38. Dan on said:

    From Mr. Taylor: “Whenever I see City Hall violating the law I will continue challenge them on it.”
    And there you have it. Mr. Taylor has spilled the beans. He is not even *asking* whether a law is being violated. He is playing holier-than-thou judge and jury. “Demagogue” has a new representative.

  39. David on said:

    I think Ben is right. Taylor’s point is that it is important for all of us to make sure that ordinances are followed and that City Council upholds them, not just when it is convenient. IF ordinances are arcane or misguided in certain instances, it is important that changing them be the course of action, not ignoring them. If anything, using such a popular event such as this to make his point should make it easy on City Council to make changes to the ordinances, rather than shut the event down. I, for one, applaud Taylor for harmlessly working to make our City better this way. It does us no good to willfully ignore City ordinances just because a majority disagrees with them. That is the function of our representative government (ideally).

    Also, while I love the Food Truck Court, I will concede that that – as someone who lives across the street – it does make parking near my home very difficult on Tuesdays and Fridays when I get home from work. Small price to pay, though…

  40. Stuart on said:

    “It does us no good to willfully ignore City ordinances just because a majority disagrees with them. ”
    But in this scenario nobody is ignoring (violating) an ordinance, rather, they are not conforming to an implicit ordinance. I.e. the R-6 zoning district (which doesn’t permit museums or parking lots btw) does not explicitly permit food trucks, but it also doesn’t prohibit them. The food trucks all have permits to operate in the city (I assume…) and maybe there is some condition of their permit that regulates where they can and cannot operate. But absent a ruling from the planning commission nobody is currently in violation. Now if the planning commission or council did prohibit food trucks at the museum, the effect would be that food trucks could no longer work in ANY city R-district. I assume that would extend even to the ice cream truck working neighborhoods in the hot summer, think of all the sad children we would have on our hands.

  41. Stuart on said:

    Correction, R districts do allow museums and parking. My bad.

  42. Zac on said:

    The solution to the city ignoring stupid ordinances is to get rid of the ordinances, not have the city enforce them. Consistency in government is only as strong as the laws themselves. I’ll take an erratic government over a consistently horrible one.

  43. Sean Stilwell on said:

    Can one of the truck owners chime in? I remember a friend of mine ran a hot dog cart a few years back and his license made him stay west of belvidere, but was very loose with where he could set up otherwise.

  44. Mr. Taylor is entitled to his opinion, just like you are. He provides a valuable service with the City Hall Reporter. If you don’t like it, don’t read it.

    He has the right to raise issues that concern him. That doesn’t make him a “douchebag”. While I disagree with him, his opinion is a lot more informed than most people here. If there is a problem, let the council remedy it. If not, let the party continue. You don’t have to be a neighborhood resident to be concerned about the fair application of City law.

    I appreciate the work he does with the City Hall Report. I’m sure he doesn’t get thanked very often. Certainly he doesn’t get paid for it.

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