Will Pettis thinks he did everything he could to make sure his food truck was legal — he said he has his permits, pays his taxes, meets health code and parks with permission.
He still doesn’t understand why police kicked his truck off West Franklin Street on Wednesday.
And police said they felt the need to bring along their legal adviser, Matthew Sullivan, to help explain the laws when asking Pettis to leave.
Food trucks aren’t illegal in Chapel Hill, but regulations are so complex that few dare to operate within town limits, Pettis said.
Recent discussions by the Town Council about changing food truck regulations have brought to light how confusing the rules currently are, said Police Chief Chris Blue.
“We want to make sure that our officers and business owners are well-informed,” Blue said.
Pettis, 24, said he started parking his food truck in town three weeks ago.
Will and Pop’s, which specializes in hamburgers and fried Twinkies, is co-owned by Pettis and his father, Kenny, and caters to a mostly student clientele.
He moved when police asked.
“I don’t have enough money to fight,” he said. “Still, what about it that I did was illegal?”
After receiving a complaint about the food truck, police asked Pettis to move it based on a zoning ordinance that states that all business outside of a closed building must be screened from the street.
“They said something about how if I build a big fence here where nobody can see me from the street, that’s OK,” Pettis said. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
Enforcement is complicated because there are at least five things to consider in regulating food trucks — land use management ordinances, town codes, special events permitting, state statutes and the health department, town spokeswoman Catherine Lazorko wrote in an e-mail.
That’s why Sullivan was called in to assist.
“An officer called and asked for some direction as to what the ordinance said and I came out and helped her on that,” Sullivan said.
Pettis said it’s the first time someone told him he was doing anything wrong.
Town Council members debated regulations for food trucks on Monday but didn’t get any closer to a resolution. They are reviewing the issue to see if there is community support to develop a food truck permitting process.
Will and Pop’s was mentioned at the meeting as a business that had found a way to operate in the town.
But for now, Pettis said he will relocate to Durham or Carrboro, and he isn’t sure when or whether he will be back in Chapel Hill.
“There are hungry people everywhere.”
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