By Mike Steely
The city’s two-year pilot project to allow and regulate food trucks is on the way to becoming an official ordinance and, overall, the trial program has been very successful. But the Community Forum has some hard questions about parts of the proposed rules. The ordinance discussion is on the city council agenda for this Tuesday and the opponents spoke out at last week’s public hearing.
While food truck operators, residents, businesses and even brick-and-mortar restaurants have applauded the growing number of trucks the Forum is speaking out against both the zones in which operation would be permitted and the “smoker” barbeque units.
The city council work session heard that the only complaints received during the trial period were from truck operators with permits reporting unauthorized food trucks operating inside the city. The hearing also discussed if “sandwich trucks” were considered in the ordinance and the reply was that if the food is not prepared onsite, then the vehicle would not be covered.
The ordinance covers a wide range of details dealing with requirements for the food vehicles, where and when they can operate, and safety and health requirements. The city staff looked into other cities’ operations and traveled to Nashville to see that city’s food truck policies. A question about enforcement remains but the city expects the main enforcement will come from registered vendors.
Units towing “smokers” are also regulated, limiting where and when they can operate and how the barbeque units must be fenced or surrounded by caution cones. The distance between food trucks and surrounding buildings or residences is also being debated.
Most council members praised the effort to create the ordinance. Councilman Nick Pavlis questioned the $50 fine for violators as “a pittance” but added, “I really think (food trucks) are a part of the restaurant scene and are well accepted across the country.”
“Let’s not stifle it,” he said, “Let’s get this thing going.”
Several council members noted the positive aspects of food trucks operating at beer and brewery shops.
Councilman George Wallace said that “smokers” are often just marketing tools and don’t actually prepare food in the cookers. He also asked about tables and chairs being allowed when food trucks operate legally in a residential area.
But the most opposition came from two Community Forum members, Carlene Malone and Larry Silverstein. The Forum is a group made up of representatives from various neighborhood groups including the Bearden Council, West Hills, Fountain City Town Hall, and others.
“You have introduced food trucks into zones where no restaurants or outside sales are permitted,” said former councilwoman Malone, who also asked the city to ban smokers.
Silverstein said the proposed ordinance would allow smokers and food trucks to operate in city parks and said, “People don’t realize what’s in this ordinance.”
Councilman Marshall Stair responded by saying he has received no complaints about smoke from food trucks and that “People love the smell at Litton’s Restaurant” which has a smoker.
Pavlis noted that many city parks have grills for barbecuing and said prohibiting smokers would “open up a can of worms.”
A food truck operator told the council that “you can’t have barbecue without a smoker” and another operator said that the city has “been very fair” in the pilot program.