Oh' Phoebe's BBQ truck owner Clint Johnson says the town's new requirements for mobile food vendors have delayed him from re-opening this summer.
The arrival of Clint Johnson's barbeque truck in downtown Middletown helped to convince town council to adopt new rules governing mobile food vendors last year.
Now, as Johnson seeks to move his Oh' Phoebe's BBQ truck to the outskirts of town, he's become the first mobile food vendor required to follow those new regulations.
And he says that fact has already cost him six weeks of business during the peak summer months.
"I was grandfathered in on [West] Main Street, but now because of the new rules, if I go somewhere and that place blows up, I've got to go back to city hall," Johnson said last week. "In the meantime, I'm out of business for at least a month or more until town council can make a decision."
Until this summer, the 53-year-old Townsend resident had been spending his weekends selling smoked ribs and chicken out of a mobile BBQ truck parked in front of the former Farrell Roofing building at the corner of Wood and West Main streets.
His arrival there in 2011 immediately frustrated Keith Young, who owns Young's BBQ, a six-year-old, sit-down restaurant in Ashley Plaza off of East Main Street.
Young lobbied town council to adopt an ordinance that would limit mobile food vendors, claiming their presence creates an uneven playing field that puts brick-and-mortar business at a disadvantage.
"He's out there cooking outside and I'm in a building with a license and insurance," Young told town council in October. "This isn't about who's food is better, it's about the way it's being done."
In December, town council began requiring mobile food vendors to seek a conditional-use permit before operating in the town's commercial districts. The new rules also limited mobile vendors to private property and required them to provide the town with written permission from property owners.
Those rules initially did not affect Johnson, who had previously received permission from the town and the property owner to operate at 225 W. Main St. on Saturdays and Sundays.
However, Farrell Roofing moved to a West Lake Street in January. The owners of the Lost and Found Again Consignment Shop, which moved into the former Farrell Roofing location in May, told Johnson he would no longer be able to use their parking lot to set up shop.
"I can understand where they were coming from because they're open on the weekends where Farrell Roofing wasn't, and they have flea markets and things in that parking lot," Johnson said. "But, unfortunately, that put me out of business for month."
Johnson submitted his $150 application fee for a conditional use permit to relocate to the parking lot of Tractor Supply off of Route 301, where he was located before his move to downtown Middletown two years ago.
Johnson's case was added to the June agenda of the Middletown Planning and Zoning Commission, which makes recommendations to town council on land use matters.
But Johnson didn't show up for the meeting, which resulted in his case being held over for a month.
"Nobody ever told me I had to be there," he said last week. "I submitted all my paperwork and I thought it was all handled in-house. So then I find out I had to be there to get to the next stage, and now I've had to wait another six weeks just to get before council."
Kristen Krenzer of the town's public relations office said the town does not explicitly instruct applicants to attend planning and zoning commission meetings in person, but has never had an applicant fail to show up until now.
Johnson received a unanimous recommendation from the planning and zoning commission on July 18 and is now scheduled to appear before town council for a final vote on Aug. 5.
"What I would really like to be able do is move around, like a suburban cantina, and set up near construction sites or businesses like Amazon and Johnson Controls," Johnson said. "I just want to be treated like any other delivery truck that shows up with goods, but with these new rules I can't move around unless I give the town at least a month's notice in advance."
Krenzer said the new rules were created last year with input from mobile food vendors and are intended to allow the town oversight through the conditional use permit process.
"That process is intended to give residents, business owners, the mayor and town council an opportunity to voice their concerns before a business shows up in an area not zoned for that use," she said.