A plan by the developer of the Hilton Garden Inn downtown to move a dumpster and add a food truck court to the hotel’s property failed at a Board of Adjustment meeting Monday due to lack of a supermajority.
Hilton Garden Inn developer Mike Cowart, of Cowart Hospitality, was looking for a pair of variances that required a supermajority vote from five of the board’s seven members. Only five members attended the meeting on Monday, Aug. 1, and only three voted in favor. Chairman William Guess, Lewis Golden and Jeremy Milling voted in favor of the variances. Concerns forced Sanford Davis and Vernon Coleman to vote against.
One variance would have allowed the hotel to move a dumpster and trash compactor southward to a communal location, where other establishments would be able to use it. Another variance to the hotel’s plans would’ve allowed for a food truck court to be placed where the dumpster had been.
Cowart said the court, which would have 75 feet of frontage on Joachim Street, could accommodate three food trucks during lunch and late-night hours. The trucks would be in a semicircle around a covered eating area next to the hotel, he said. The area would also have outlets so the trucks wouldn’t have to run on generators.
“It would be a very attractive and well-designed facility,” Cowart told board members.
The food truck court would be marketed as a separate entity to the hotel, he said, and a schedule could be placed online to let visitors know what food trucks are available at any given time.
“We think it adds to the restaurant selection, which increases the whole pie,” Cowart said. “It brings more people to the area.”
The food trucks would add another dining option for his hotel customers, as well as help Joachim Street, Cowart said. The food court would be similar to approaches used in cities such as Pensacola, Florida, and Austin, Texas, he said.
“It’ll create a whole new, nice area,” he said. “Our primary motivation for doing food trucks is to enhance the neighborhood for our hotel guests.”
Plans to move the dumpster also track with Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s administration and an attempt to get rid of the odor downtown caused by restaurant garbage carts, Executive Director of Public Works Bill Harkins told board members.
The dumpster and compactor in question is similar to one the city tested behind Moe’s Original Barbecue and The Garage. It worked so well, Harkins said, they made it permanent and placed it behind the Mobile Public Library office near the two establishments.
Harkins said Stimpson told him to talk to the hotel about making its private dumpster communal, following the success of the earlier test.
“We were looking at ways to expand it,” Harkins said. “We came up with a plan to use the parking lot for it.”
Several downtown restaurant owners served up opposition to both variances for a variety of reasons.
Tony Sawyer, owner of Bob’s Downtown, said the addition of a permanent location for food trucks downtown would create unfair competition for brick-and-mortar establishments because the trucks aren’t restricted to a single location. While he said he doesn’t mind competition, Sawyer doesn’t want trucks to “roll in and out of town” whenever they want.
“Bring the trucks down here 18 hours a day,” Sawyer said. “Don’t just come when it’s busy.”
David Naman, the owner of several properties downtown, said with “45 restaurants” downtown “we don’t need food trucks coming in and out.” Naman also complained about the traffic issues a food truck court might cause, as Joachim is also an alternate route to the Bankhead Tunnel.
Matthew Golden, owner of LoDa Bier Garten, said other cities that allow food trucks in business districts normally have them set off from other restaurants to level the playing field.
Sawyer suggested the city allow food trucks to operate at Cooper Riverside Park, away from the majority of established downtown restaurants.
Bill Monahan, owner of T.P. Crockmier’s, said food trucks don’t have bathrooms or facilities for handwashing, which would create a problem.
While there is little in the city’s zoning ordinance regulating food trucks, they are required to obtain a business license before they operate and they must follow guidelines put in place by the Mobile County Health Department.
For instance, food truck owners must have access to a “commissary” with a full-size industrial kitchen, Ray Pelt, MCHD director of inspection services, said. Truck operators must also have access to a restroom if parked in one location for more than two hours, he said.
Monahan also opposed the proposed location of the dumpster, as it would be in close proximity to the back of his restaurant.
“There’s going to be a stench we’ll have to live with on Joachim Street,” he said.
Monahan added the dumpster would not be cleaned and maintained enough to stave off the smell of garbage.
In addition to the compactor, Harkins said, the new dumpster has an ionizer, which pulls air from it, cleans it and then recirculates it. Harkins said there have been no complaints about odor since the test began in March. The dumpster is emptied every two weeks, but could be emptied more often if needed, Harkins said. The dumpster is maintained by the Public Works department.
The safety of employees walking out to the dumpster after hours is also an issue, Sawyer said.
Both Cowart and Harkins said the dumpster area would be well lit. Harkins added there have been no safety issues with the test dumpster since it was installed.