Langley City Council to reconsider food truck rules

Joe Wierzbowski reads a statement to the Langley City Council and staff during a council meeting in July 2015. The owner of the first licensed food truck

Langley leaders will once again consider adopting rules to allow food trucks to roll into town, hoping this go-around will be less bumpy.

The city’s interim planner, Jack Lynch, is proposing the council adopt a slightly revised food truck ordinance at its Tuesday, Feb. 16 meeting. He made only two changes, removing the sunset date of Dec. 31, 2015 and adding that the planning official and a community representative physically inspect the vehicle before issuing a license.

“I think this will address the issues that we had in the last ordinance and executing the last ordinance,” Langley Mayor Tim Callison said in a phone interview Friday morning.

In May 2015, the city launched its first food truck ordinance to much fanfare and little use. The fanfare was surpassed only by the frustrations about missteps, mistakes and miscommunications. Only one vendor, The Big W owned and operated by chef Joe Wierzbowski, was ever issued a license from the city to operate in the downtown core’s streets. It was also the rollout for Wierzbowski’s mobile food business, and both he and the city experienced growing pains.

The Big W’s first location, one listed by the city, on First Street and Anthes Avenue, was criticized and ultimately removed from the list. It was decried as being a violation of code for blocking a scenic view at Hladky/Whale Bell Park and as a possible traffic hazard. The truck was relocated to roadside parking on Second Street near US Bank, where much of the discontent over the business dissipated.

I certainly think it was a learning experience, some good, some bad, but you’ve got to learn how to run your business.”

Joe Wierzbowski,

owner

The Big W food truck

But the truck was also found to exceed the ordinance’s then-20-foot maximum length. A stop work order was issued, barring the business from operating during the Independence Day weekend. Such a violation of the ordinance could have been accompanied by a $1,000 fine. To allow the truck to continue operating without being in violation of the ordinance, the council met in an emergency session and removed specific dimensions, which were deemed restrictive and impractical.

For the rest of the season, which only stretched from Memorial Day weekend in May to Labor Day weekend in September, there were no issues for Wierzbowski and the city.

“I certainly think it was a learning experience, some good, some bad, but you’ve got to learn how to run your business,” Wierzbowski said in a phone interview Friday morning. “I hope anyone else who applies does their due diligence and makes sure everyone in town knows what’s coming and doesn’t have a grand opening that turns into a grand closing the next week.”

The kerfuffle resulted in an investigation by former Mayor Fred McCarthy. His report found the city to be at fault for not more diligently reviewing the truck’s dimensions to be in line with the existing ordinance, and the vendor for not complying with the ordinance requirements for size and design. It also partially informed Lynch’s revisions to the ordinance, primarily the inclusion of requiring the planning official to physically review the vehicle.

“His analysis was that maybe there hadn’t been enough attention paid to all of the application process,” Lynch said.

“We’re going to go out and actually make sure everything is being met,” he added.

Lynch decided to forgo adding revised specific dimensions in favor of flexibility for the types of vehicles someone may want to use for their mobile food business in Langley. That’s why the planner’s physical review was necessary.

Including a community representative was to help cover the design review process. Brick-and-mortar businesses must go through the city’s design review board for any external changes — paint, signs, or features — and a food truck should have a similar process beyond just the planning director’s discretion. Lynch said the community representative, as called for in the ordinance, could be a member of any of the city’s commissions or boards, or a member of the non-government Langley Chamber of Commerce or Langley  Main Street Association.

The rule change of a physical inspection had Wierzbowski’s approval when told of the revision.

“Instead of treating it as a whole ordinance, maybe they should do it truck to truck, because each of them is different,” he said.

Only two spots are currently available for food truck use on city streets. Both are on Second Street, with the first option near US Bank and the second near Langley Park north of Anthes Avenue. The latter spot may present a spacing problem, as it is also the location of an electrical vehicle charging station, but Lynch said there should be enough room for both a food truck and a car behind it.

“If we have more than two applicants then we can consider other locations,” Callison said.

There will also be no change to the length of the food truck season on the city spots. The season is between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend, and was set after consulting with the existing restaurants and businesses in town so as to not create unnecessary competition, Lynch said. That was similar to previous statements made by city leaders in 2015.

“The thought was that was a more than adequate time period,” Lynch said.

Private properties, such as homes and businesses with their own parking lots, can host food trucks any time so long as they have the appropriate food licenses and permits.

Wierzbowski said he was not planning to return to Langley but was not ruling it out either. He instead had his sights set closer to Highway 525, and was trying to negotiate a location near the Langley Road/Cultus Bay Road intersection. In the offseason for food trucks, he opened up a take-out pizza kitchen in Ken’s Korner Shopping Plaza in the former JW Desserts space.

Council meetings are usually held the first and third Monday of each month, but the Presidents’ Day holiday pushed the meeting to Tuesday. The meeting at city hall begins at 5:30 p.m., and the council’s agenda lists the food truck ordinance discussion as the ninth item overall, and third under unfinished business.