A park on Rio Grande Street will temporarily lose some of the bright colors and fresh food smells that attract hungry neighbors starting today.
Feed the Soul, a local food trailer park, was shut down after a neighbor complained that the businesses were operating in a lot not zoned for commercial use. St. Martin’s Evangelical Lutheran Church has been leasing out space to seven trailers since mid-May after earning what they thought were all the necessary permits.
But permitting could not make up for the fact that the park and the church across the street are currently zoned for office space, not commercial business. Church leaders decided this weekend to appeal for a change of designation of the lot for commercial use so they can continue to lease the land to food vendors.
“At this point we’re looking for a new location because everything has been so up in the air,” said Kent O’Keefe, owner of Osmo’s Kitchen, who spent the weekend preparing to move.
O’Keefe has been operating his business for a year and left a previous location to join Feed the Soul. Having to relocate again is an extra burden on his business, he said.
“Everyone told us it was fine and that was not the case,” O’Keefe said. “I’m absolutely furious. It should have been investigated prior to us moving in there.”
Austin’s Code Compliance Department office could possibly grant Feed the Soul a temporary-use permit now that the church is appealing, said Jerry Rusthoven, a member of the city’s Planning and Development Review Department, who has met with church leaders about the space.
The food trucks in the park will either relocate or will remain closed until the church reaches an agreement with Code Compliance officials.
Finding a good location is difficult because there are so many food trailers in Austin competing for a good spot, O’Keefe said.
Melissa Martinez, division manager for Code Compliance, said their job is to enforce the existing zoning requirements for a property.
“Our goal is to get everybody to move into compliance. We’re trying to work with them and be understanding,” Martinez said. “Mobile food vending is a part of the culture here in Austin and quite popular, it’s just that the church location is not zoned for what they want to do.”
Only after an unnamed person in the neighborhood raised an issue with the park’s zoning did the church receive a letter of violation.
Bill Grosskoph, a St. Martin’s congregation member who serves on the park’s committee, said the reason for transitioning the park into a space for food vendors was to better utilize the area and to cover the costs of park improvements.
“We were trying to do something that could generate some income that could improve the park and at the same time allow us to open it up to more public use,” Grosskoph said.
An appeals process will involve citizen communication, where interested neighbors can voice their support or concerns about the park.
“The goal right now would be to keep it open unless we just run into too much cost or resistance down the line,” Grosskoph said. “We want to do something that the neighbors will be OK with, too.”