Vice Mayor Linda Gorton has directed a small work group to find solutions to some of the thorny issues that food-truck owners say inhibit mobile food vendors from thriving in Lexington as they do in many other cities.
The big season for food trucks is coming up in a couple of months. I asked the group to give it some speed, Gorton said Friday. But I want it done right, with everyones viewpoint considered.
This work group was created in addition to an Itinerant Merchants Task Force formed two years ago to come up with recommendations to regulate mainly street peddlers, who sell everything from rugs to fireworks. The task force is on track to report to Urban County Council later this month.
But the task force work did not deal with food trucks, Gorton said.
The Vice Mayor appointed six council members and a small number of stakeholders to quickly work on a food-truck ordinance. The members include independent food-truck owner Anthony Rios, president of the Blue Grass Food Truck Association Sean Tibbetts, owner of Natashas Gene Williams, Lori Houlihan from Mayor Jim Grays staff and Gary Means, executive director of the Lexington Parking Authority.
Councilwoman Shevawn Akers is chairwoman of the group.
Our charge is to separate food truck operations from other itinerant merchant issues and come up with some workable solutions, Akers said Friday. Gorton asked Akers to have recommendations to take to the economic development committee of the whole on Feb. 19. Akers has scheduled a work group meeting on Thursday. There will also be time for public comment. Akers wants to put suggestions in writing and distribute those to all council members for their feed back before taking recommendations to the committee of the whole.
Also, Sally Hamilton, the citys chief administrative officer, is working with the citys law department to draft an ordinance dealing with food trucks, pulling ideas from cities where food trucks have been successful, Gorton said. It may not be what we end up with, but its a place to start, she added.
Food-truck owner Rios said food trucks and brick and mortar restaurants need to cooperate and compromise because one will benefit from the other. He referenced the cluster theory of economics that says in the restaurant business, the more restaurants there are the better. They bring business and feed off each other, he said.
Generally, Mayor Jim Gray supports food trucks, city spokeswoman Susan Straub said on Friday.
People enjoy them and theyve been successful in many other cities, she said. The Mayor supports the work group appointed by Vice Mayor Gorton that is exploring ways to better accommodate food trucks.
A priority with Akers and food-truck owners as Rios, whose food truck is called DogsforCats is to streamline the licensing process. Currently, food-truck owners have to go to four separate city divisions building inspection, planning, revenue and the health department to get permits to set up for 14 days, Rios said. At the end of 14 days, the truck has to move to a new location, and the owner has to go back through the application process again.
Tibbetts said, We dont understand how building inspection or planning and zoning has anything to do with food trucks. Were not a building, were a truck.
Right now, food trucks are limited to parking on private property. Mobile food vendors want to be allowed to set up on public property, wherever and whenever they want, he said.
Wed like to have the same rights as a restaurant with a sidewalk cafe, Tibbetts said. Theres no law on the books that says a restaurant cant be open 24 hours. Theres nothing that says a taxicab cant pull into a metered parking space 24 hours. We dont understand why there are extra regulations on food trucks.
Zoning ordinances prohibit food trucks in industrial zoned areas, which means food trucks cannot sell food to workers on third shift. Why is that? Nobody seems to know the reason for that. That should be changed, Tibbetts said.
Mark Jensen, owner of Fork in the Road mobile galley, hopes an ordinance can be drafted to allow food trucks more flexibility this summer in where they set up and hours of operation. We should try coexisting in the summer of 2013, then meet in the downtime to evaluate how things went, he said.
Wi l l i a m s , ow n e r o f Natashas, favors food trucks in parks, at city events and in other parts of the city, but not downtown until there are more people who live, work and come downtown for recreation. Food trucks add to the people-friendly, urban activity of downtown. They add to the romance and sizzle, he said. But currently there are not enough people downtown to make food trucks a real success. Williams also said downtown restaurants are all operating close their margins. When theres a line out your door, that tells me there ought to be some more food options, he said.
While Akers understands that food trucks should not impede on brick and mortar restaurants, she hopes there is a way the two can strike a happy medium and live together.
A hot-dog vendor should not set up in front of a hotdog restaurant, but a taco truck might be out front, and that would be OK, Akers said. Lets use some common sense to protect brick and mortar restaurants; at the same time give food trucks a chance to succeed.
Akers said food trucks bring life, diversity and vibrancy to a city. It is great for economic development.
No one wants food trucks to be harmful to brick and mortar restaurants, Gorton said. On the other hand, we think they can be complementary. The idea of food trucks is to add more choices. Some of those choices will be at times when there isnt a lot else available, and maybe places where there are no other food choices available.
Beverly Fortune: (859) 231-3251. Twitter: @BFortune2010