NORTH WHITEHALL TWP., Pa. - A Lehigh County community is rallying behind a popular barbecue joint that's at risk of closing up shop for good.
People travel from all over to get a taste of Tex's Smokin' Bar-B-Q in North Whitehall Township.
The owner now fears his entire livelihood could go up in smoke over a zoning issue. His customers are worried, too.
"It needs to stay," said Cindy Moyer, a customer.
"I don't want to see him leave," said Dennis Rothrock, who lives across the street from the food truck.
Tex Wells, a Texas native, brought his smoked, slow-cooked BBQ to the Lehigh Valley six years ago.
"When you go by, a lot of people leave their windows open to let it in because it smells so good," said Cindy Moyer, a customer.
But that smoke has him in a bit of a pickle right now.
"The complaint is that our smoke has become a nuisance on 309," Wells said.
"There's smoke in the intersection, in neighboring businesses and homes. That's really what set this whole thing off," said Jeff Bartlett, North Whitehall zoning officer.
Wells said he typically starts the smoker Wednesday night and turns it off Sunday afternoon. He said it does not run constantly.
One of his smokers cooks 1,100 pounds of meat at a time.
Neighbor Dennis Rothrock doesn't see a problem.
"I've lived here 25 years. I've never had a problem with smoke coming from over there," Rothrock said.
North Whitehall Township said it's a zoning issue.
The property nestled between Route 309 and Shankweiler Road is zoned planned commercial and the township doesn't have food truck zones.
According to the township, Wells could continue operating at the current location with special exception zoning approval.
"If he wants to continue operating as a food truck type vendor, he would need a special exception. A special exception is granted for an individual property. So if it's denied for this location but he finds another location that's, let's say zoned commercial, and he wants to set up at that location... he would have to go through a special exception for that property," Bartlett said.
But there are guidelines for that special exception zoning approvals.
"You have to deal with traffic, with noise, odor, pollution fires, is it detrimental to the community?" Bartlett said.
Bartlett said Wells could also consider moving to another property or opening up in a store front as a restaurant. Another option would be an amendment to the township's zoning.
Wells moved his truck to the location two years ago. He operated his truck from another property in the township before that.
Wells said he doesn't know what he'll do if the township tells him to pack up and leave from his current location.
That prompted an outcry on Facebook. Loyal customers are begging Wells to keep the food coming.
"It's very sad. The chances of us being able to overcome this don't seem to be in our favor," Wells said.
The hearing for the special exception is Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at the township building.
Allentown, PA 18102