Food trucks spark debate at Melissa meeting

By Joshua Baethge
Anna-Melissa Tribune
Melissa council woman Shannon Sweat discuses downtown food trucks during the Dec. 8 City Council meeting.

During what was an otherwise mundane Melissa City Council meeting Dec. 8, tensions briefly rose over how the city’s food trucks needed to be regulated.

Earlier this fall, the council passed new regulations related to food truck vendors and food truck parks. As part of the new ordinance, if a food truck stays in one spot for four days out of seven consecutive days, it is considered permanently stationed and its owner must apply for permanent zoning through the specific-use permit (SUP) process.

City staff was then instructed to help existing food truck owners navigate their way to compliance.

In order to meet the obligations of the new regulations, owners of the local food trucks Cross My Hear & Hope for Pie and Hidden Aces BBQ were on hand to request approval for their SUPs.

The request by Cross My Heart & Hope for Pie quickly passed without incident.  Hidden Aces appeared to be on track for swift approval as well before Councilwoman Shannon Sweat expressed concerns about the look of the property on Cooper Street in downtown, saying it might not meet her expectations for the appearance of business in that area.

Mayor Reed Greer also echoed some of those concerns, noting that the property sometimes looks “a little rougher” than he would like.

The Melissa City Council met Aug. 25. Members wore face masks in accordance with COVID-19 safety protocols while discussing new regulations for food trucks operating in the city.

In response, Hidden Aces owner Darin Jordan noted that the property on either side of him is actually owned by the city.  He said that he volunteered to mow them for free and had recently hired a landscaping company to ensure that the land was maintained on a regular basis. He also said his recently purchased state-of-the-art foot tuck would also improve the property’s appearance.

“I don’t think there’s a building in downtown that that will be nicer than that trailer is,” he said.

Councilman Jay Northcut also questioned the fact that the property has picnic tables and hay bales for seating, something not covered by the SUP.  City Manager Jason Little interjected that it would be disingenuous for the city to allow food trucks and not have outdoor seating, but many several on the council disagreed with that sentiment. 

Jordan and Sweat then had an exchange over whether or not there had been complaints about the Hidden Aces property. According to Jordan, none of his neighbors had complained even though they had been given ample opportunity to offer input before the vote. Sweat countered that some of them had expressed concerns to her, but did not want to publicly say so in front of Jordan.  This prompted Councilman Craig Ackerman, an admitted fan of Hidden Aces’ food, to question if those opinions should be considered since the people expressing them were not willing to do so publicly.

“I would just encourage people who have something to say to come here and say it in public,” Ackerman said. 

Eventually, tempers calmed and council approved the SUP. At the end of the meeting, Northcut suggested that the council revisit the issue of food trucks and food truck parks so that everyone could have more clarification on the subject.

Hidden Aces BBQ also announced on Facebook late Tuesday night that they would be closed the following day to clean up the property that had become a little messy after the installation of the new truck.