The seven Town Board candidates line up for Q&A number 4

Running for re-election Tuesday, Nov. 5 are Commissioners, John Dotson, Eric Pierson, and Brian Stiehler. Opposing them are Marc Hehn, Nick McCall, Michael Rogers and Hank Ross.

Each candidate has been asked to answer six questions. This week we will feature answers to Question 3 by the candidates in alphabetical order.

Question 4: 

Should the Town of Highlands regulate or allow Food Trucks other than just for the Highlands Food & Wine Festival Food Truck event?

John Dotson

At this point food trucks are disallowed from operation within the city limits other than the Food and Wine Festival. 

Over the years, the Town Board has seen fit to regulate food trucks for a number of reasons. One of those, and not the least, is that food trucks require oversized parking for themselves and also parking for potential customers. Virtually all the parking lots in town that could accommodate such an operation are privately owned and have restaurants existing within those complexes.

While I do think the Town Board should revisit its ordinances from time to time, other than the Food and Wine event, I am not inclined to designate public parking to such operations.

Marc Hehn

This is a minor issue for me. The town can only enforce the zoning regulations that are in place at the time. Any additional regulations would have to be recommended by the Planning Board and approved by the Town Board. There is not enough time to consider any additional regulations of food truck operations before the November Food Truck Festival. 

With so many issues, the Town Board has to have priorities. Dr Patti Wheeler, the Chief of Staff at the Highlands Cashiers Hospital says we need four 4 more family practice physicians in Highlands and Cashiers today. We also need nursing staff and other personnel at our hospital. If I am elected, I will ask the Town Board to develop a list of projects that will help our hospital attract the physicians and healthcare professionals we need to keep our hospital viable. Starting in the Spring, there will be an estimated $65,000,000 available every year in grant funding for healthcare projects in Western North Carolina. Our town must become proactive in developing projects that will provide our Chief of Staff with the tools she is asking for. The money is there, we just have to prepare plan(s) highly competitive project(s). 

Nick McCall

The question of allowing food trucks to operate inside the town limits of highlands, is a question I believe should be answered by the people with consideration given to the commercial district. 

I wear two hats on this issue; the first being a lifetime resident and growing up in this town and a second being a business owner in the restaurant industry. 

My opinions as a business owner would be against allowing them at all. If you consider the amount of rent each of the local restaurants pay, being able to operate without overhead expenses doesn’t make for a level playing field. This would be in line with the transient business issue which has been looked at by previous boards. 

Looking at it from a resident of the community, I find myself completely against the idea and also confused and filled with many questions. 

If the citizens are concerned about the short-term rental issues for reasons such as their existence diminishes the community aspect of their neighborhoods, would it not also diminish the community in a profound way to see the restaurants that have served and been a part of our lives for so long, the entire ideal of a community, being put out of business by food trucks that simply come and go and add nothing to the local community? 

To operate a business in downtown Highlands businesses must abide by a vast amount of rules and regulations ranging from what colors can be chosen when painting, or what type of siding and how big your sign can be, how much parking or how many seats you are allowed. To simply allow competition that does not have to abide by the same rules does not make much sense to me. These businesses selflessly give back so much to the local community, by supporting the local school, donating to fundraisers, hosting events, basically anything they can to help out when asked. Do we really want to ask them to now compete with this outside industry? 

I’ve always been of the opinion that if you let one in you open the door for others. I know recently there has been an addition of a food truck, which according to town officials, basically found a way around the standards and ordinances in place. We need to clarify and fix our ordinances to prevent loopholes like this in the future. I could take a hotdog cart and put it in my alley since it would be on private property, but I care far more about this town and community than I do personal gains. My motto still remains don’t change the who we are out of who we are.

Eric Pierson

Personally, I like food trucks. I have eaten from a number of them while visiting other areas. As for their place in our town, I think it is an issue that would need a good bit of discussion and input from citizens and merchants alike. I have had many people say they would like to see food trucks in town as well as some that oppose them being here at all. I don’t believe the town could just openly allow food trucks into the community. There would have to be some regulation from the Town i.e. where they could be located as not to interfere with public traffic, possibly limiting the number that could be in town, etc. I think this is an item that the Planning Board (and eventually the Land Use Committee) should take up, to start those discussions with community members, and see the direction that the public is wanting to go.

Michael Rogers

I think Food Trucks are much needed during our busy season. There are times when the capacity in Highlands is stretched to its limits and getting into any place to eat is nearly impossible. During those peak times food trucks would be a wonderful option to have. If you are a working person getting into a place within a reasonable time frame doesn’t happen. I would like to see high end food trucks that serve a quality product at a reasonable price during our busy season, as I don’t believe this would take away from any restaurant during those times.

Hank Ross

Any public vending should be regulated including food, drink or merchandise, so yes, food truck operations need to be regulated when operating in our town. Food trucks should be allowed for additional special events other than the Highlands Food & Wine Festival. The special events should be limited in number and approved by the town by permit. 

In most communities, food trucks are required to have fire and food handling certificates, liability insurance and be located within 100 feet of a public restroom. Permit fees should be substantial and a higher cost if you do not own a local Highlands restaurant.

Food trucks can add to the enjoyment of festivals and large gatherings such as the events in Kelsey Hutchinson Founders Park. In the future, I and lots of children hope to see an ice cream truck pull up during the “Saturdays on Pine” concerts.

Brian Stiehler

While there may be time and place for food trucks, I would have to say my initial reaction is that I would be opposed to the idea of allowing food trucks in town. 

We have a number of great restaurants in Highlands and new eateries seem to open each year. I would rather focus on and support these businesses who employee local people, pay a business license as well as Federal/State and Local taxes. 

I am not a proponent of anyone conducting business in Highlands on property they don’t own. Again, just like the short-term rental issue, lets financially support those who have a vested interest in our town and community. I have a huge admiration of all business owners in Highlands. What most people don’t understand, is that owning a restaurant or retail shop is incredibly challenging due to our seasonal nature and high monthly rental fees. It’s not fair to allow outsiders into Highlands to conduct business without the overhead that our current businesses have. Let’s support those who are always there for us.

  • Next week Question 5:

What are your opinions concerning “beautifying” Highlands commercial district with trees or increased lighting?

By Kim Lewicki, Highlands Newspaper

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