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Food-truck court near ballpark back on North Little Rock council agenda

by Stephen Simpson | June 14, 2021 at 6:58 a.m.
North Little Rock City Hall at 300 Main St. is shown in this 2020 file photo.

A proposal for a large food-truck court near Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock has been on hold for several weeks because of confusion surrounding the proposed ordinance's purpose, city officials said.

The North Little Rock City Council postponed discussion May 10 of a proposed ordinance that would allow for a food-truck court at 601 W. Fourth St.

The proposed ordinance would allow applicants Demetris Settles and Lawrence Barbee to house a dozen food trucks on the parking lot next to a building they own, which would require special permission from the city. The parking lot is currently allowed to house up to three food trucks.

Since then the proposed ordinance, sponsored by Council Member Maurice Taylor, has appeared on the agenda before every meeting but ultimately was held each time.

The measure is expected to go before the City Council again tonight.

Taylor said the reason for the delays comes down to some council members who have expressed concerns about the use of the property.

"The food court isn't their concern," he said. "The gentlemen that are doing the food court have another building next to the proposed food court, and some of the council members were running those two together, but they are separate issues.

"The food court is just the parking lot, and the business license for the building is a whole other ball of wax."

Attempts by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette to reach Settles and Barbee were unsuccessful.

Mayor Terry Hartwick attributed the delay to city officials being unsure of the intent the property owners have for the area.

"They were trying to have events at the building next to the property and turn it into a type of an events center, and it's not zoned for that," Hartwick said. "We have been working with them to explain they can only have a food-truck court there if this is approved."

Jim Scott, the city's deputy city clerk and revenue enforcement officer, said he and members of the Planning Commission and the Fire Department met with the property owners and explained the situation.

"I think they had this idea for an event center, but the legislation is only for a food truck," Scott said. "Beyond that we explained the type of guidance and fire codes that would be required for the building to hold concerts. The building cannot physically be used to hold events."

Concerns about the property escalated a few weeks ago when advertisements for a concert inside the building next to the proposed property made the rounds on social media.

"They are wanting to hold events in an area that is almost in a residential zone," Hartwick said. "We had several complaints about it. We pretty much told them they need to get legal before we move forward with this ordinance."

Scott said he viewed the conversation between the property owners and city officials as productive.

"The cool thing about the city is that Hartwick wants to help make businesses possible," he said. "He made all the resources available to them because we believe the [food-truck court] could be a good business."

Shawn Spencer, North Little Rock's planning director, said previously that the food trucks currently using the location -- about a block from Dickey-Stephens Park, home of the Arkansas Travelers minor-league baseball team -- are allowed under the city's current food-truck ordinance.

The food-truck court would be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and from 8 a.m. to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.

The proposed ordinance states that the applicants would be required to provide on-site restrooms, a fence to prevent trash from leaving the property, off-street parking for three mobile food vehicles and to close continuous curb cuts using temporary materials such as planters, benches, pavers or other furniture.

The mobile food vehicles would not be permitted to sell anything other than food and nonalcoholic beverages.

Taylor said that when the owners approached him about sponsoring the measure, he decided to check out the property for himself.

"I went and looked at it and talked to the planning commission and decided that it was a good use for that piece of property," he said. "A group of entrepreneurs saw another opportunity with the parking lot that came with the current lease that they have. I think this will be good for North Little Rock."

The request is the latest in a series of moves the city has made over the past few years in an attempt to bring more business opportunities to North Little Rock.

Last year a food-truck court and indoor farmers market was established in the Park Hill area at a former automobile service center at 3623 JFK Blvd.

The City Council also approved an ordinance last year establishing a downtown entertainment district in the Argenta area as part of an effort to boost the city's economy during the covid-19 pandemic.


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