Hungry Bluffton diners looking for a taste of something new could soon be in for a treat.
Bluffton Town Council voted unanimously Tuesday evening granting preliminary approval to an ordinance that would allow food trucks to operate within town limits.
Town staff and elected officials have been studying the issue for several months and have held a series of public workshops during which food truck operators squared off against brick-and-mortar restauranteurs and business owners.
During those previous exchanges, food truck operators said they just want a chance to ply their wares in town. Restaurant owners expressed concerns that the trucks could bring unfair competition and clog already crowded Old Town streets.
The ordinance includes some changes to town code aimed at addressing some of these concerns.
Food trucks would only be allowed to operate in areas outside of the historic district, town planning manager Kevin Icard said Tuesday.
“We are not designating specific areas (for food truck operations) like other municipalities have,” he said. “We are just saying which areas you are not allowed in.”
One such area would be right in front of a brick-and-mortar restaurant.
Food trucks would be barred from setting up shop within 200 feet of an established restaurant without permission from the owner.
The trucks would also be prohibited from conducting business on public streets or in areas that might impede pedestrian or vehicular traffic.
Food sales would be limited to the hours of 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
The ordinance would require truck owners undergo a fire safety inspection and get a town business license and an S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control permit.
Owners also would have to pay an annual fee of $400 to the town.
The ordinance does allow for multiple trucks to operate in the same location, setting up the possibility for food truck courts — a concept that truck owners say has proven popular in other regions.
Unlike previous public discussions of food trucks in town, no restaurant owners stood up Tuesday to oppose the ordinance.
Local chef and food truck owner Bridgette Frazier said, “There has been a lot of discussion — some of it good, some it unsavory and not so good.”
But she said she is pleased that “cooler heads” appear to have prevailed in regard to dialogue between the two camps.
Town Council will hold a final vote on the matter next month.
In other action
Town Council members unanimously approved a measure Tuesday that paves the way for construction of a new hospital with the potential to add more than 100 new jobs.
Alabama-based inpatient physical rehabilitation provider HealthSouth received a zoning change that allows the construction of a 46,000-square-foot, 38-bed facility on 6.8 acres of vacant land in the Seagrass Station neighborhood off S.C. 170.