The Onalaska Planning Commission cleared the way for food trucks to begin serving on public properties at a meeting Tuesday night.

The commission voted 6-2 to recommend the Common Council allow food-based businesses as a permitted use in districts zoned public and semi-public.

Commission members Jim Binash and Jan Brock voted against the measure.

If approved by the Common Council food truck operators would be allowed to set up shop on public and semi-public properties like the Great River Landing, public library, schools, parks and some churches, with the consent of the property owner.

City Engineer Jarrod Holter said in many cases the property owner would be the city.

“I think they’re a wonderful thing that add a bit of flare wherever they are,” commission member Paul Gleason said.

Onalaska has allowed food trucks in most zoning districts. However, they have not been allowed in public or residential districts.

Public property owners wishing to host a food truck would need to obtain a conditional use permit from the planning commission.

“I think we want to encourage food vendors,” Onalaska Mayor Joe Chilsen said.

Gleason expressed overwhelming support for making Onalaska a friendlier place for food trucks.

“I think I’d like to see an approach that is even more flexible,” he said. “We are getting some extremely good operators at the food trucks that I’ve eaten at.”

Gleason asked why the commission would not supporting opening up residential areas to food trucks as well.

“Neighborhoods might have neighborhood parties, they might want to have a food truck out there,” he said.

Commission member Knute Temte questioned why there were restrictions on food trucks to begin with.

“What’s the logic behind having restrictions on food trucks,” he asked. “Why do they exist in the first place?”

City Planner Katie Aspenson said the restrictions are in place as a neighborhood protection.

“That is why we don’t recommend allowing it for the residences,” she said.

Holter agreed with Gleason that making it easier for food trucks to operate in Onalaska is a good thing.

He asked the commission to consider the consequences of cutting back restrictions.

Holter said if left unchecked, mobile businesses could put unwanted pressure on local businesses.

Commission member Jim Binash asked the city retain a conditional use permit to allow it more flexibility over where food trucks and can’t operate.

Aspenson said a conditional use permit would only be required if it were not made a permitted use.

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Tobias Mann is a reporter with the River Valley Media Group. He can be reached at tobias.mann@lee.net or at 608-791-8216.

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