Having lived in Los Angeles for a time, business owner Juan Chan said he has been around food trucks for a “long time.”
With an impending move to Dripping Springs on the horizon, Chan last year opened the LeMuse Coffee Bar food trailer in order to bring a new option to the city.
But plans to implement a drive-thru for LeMuse hit a wall after the Dripping Springs Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) denied Chan’s request for a special exception from current city ordinance.
Now Chan contemplates what his next move will be. But for city leaders, possible traffic concerns and the possibility of setting a precedent led them to their decision.
Chan’s drive-thru is one piece of a plan to potentially create a new food truck park on roughly two acres he is leasing along U.S. Highway 290 near Mighty Tiger Lane.
Chan applied for the special exception to the city’s current ordinance, which doesn’t allow mobile food vendors to have drive-thrus. Jon Thompson, who presented Chan’s item at the Feb. 28 P&Z meeting, said the drive-thru wouldn’t have a “squawk box”.
Thompson said the plan was to apply for the exemption first, then a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) to allow five food trucks to operate for more than 10 days per month, which is required per city ordinance.
Chan said he planned to create a park with ethnically diverse food options.
He added the reason for the drive-thru was to allow parents with children to avoid having to leave their cars, take their children out of the car and cross traffic entering the food park lot. Chan said in a later interview the drive-thru idea is something “all his customers want.”
“It’s more convenient. They have to drop off their kids. I’m in between so many different schools and daycares,” Chan said.
Chan’s food truck idea received support from Dripping Springs Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Sherrie Parks, who asked P&Z to support small businesses. Several of Chan’s customers advocated for the drive-thru.
Bill Warren, owner of Pig Pen BBQ food trailer and a food park where LeMuse currently operates, said he supported Chan’s drive-thru plan if it meant he would forgo the five food trucks.
But city staff and P&Z members were concerned about the exception. According to city staff, concerns extended to a “loss of sense of place” if they allowed the drive-thru.
Other issues extended to “undesirable impacts” for nearby property owners, such as vehicle exhaust and possible noise from car engines.
P&Z and city staff also discussed potential traffic issues along U.S. Highway 290. While the proposed park would be near a traffic signal, commissioners were concerned one or two vehicles could wait in queue on U.S. 290, creating a safety hazard.
One P&Z commissioner asked Chan about potentially rerouting his drive-thru, but that could mean a $5,000 to $15,000 additional expense. It would also require permission from the property owner, Chan said.
Chan said his property could accommodate 11 vehicles to park, which he felt would allow room for vehicles to wait in queue.
Mim James, Dripping Springs P&Z Chairperson, said he didn’t want to tackle the issue on a “piecemeal basis.” He added it could set a precedent allowing more special exceptions for mobile vendor drive-thrus.
“I want to support small businesses. I want you here,” James said on the dais Feb. 28. “But the current ordinance doesn’t allow drive-thrus. We don’t have this arrangement within city limits unless you’re associated with a permanent brick and mortar.”
Chan said he felt like he “wasted” his month going through the process. He said he spent $500 for the denied variance. He now plans to go to the Dripping Springs City Council for the drive-thru.
But Chan also believes food-trucks could be the future of Dripping Springs, as it provides more options.
“Dripping Springs needs food options and the way to do it is to not bring big chain (restaurants),” Chan said. “Everyone travels to Austin because there is nothing here in town except for the chain restaurants.”