Work group loosening restrictions on food trucks in Lexington

bfortune@herald-leader.comFebruary 7, 2013 

After a meeting Thursday of a work group set up to streamline the permitting and licensing of mobile food trucks, Sean Tibbetts, director of the Blue Grass Food Truck Association, said he was encouraged by the proposed changes.

"We got all of our questions clarified this morning," he said. "We are really encouraged. This is leaps and bounds from where we were."

Tibbetts referred to an Itinerant Merchant Task Force that met for two years without dealing with issues facing mobile food vendors, a growing segment of the food industry.

The newly organized work group included food truck owners, Urban County Council members and other city officials.

A few of the proposals include:

• License food trucks individually instead of requiring a new license each time a truck moves to a different location.

• Provide a food truck parking permit that would be good for two years.

•  Select a downtown spot designated for food trucks so customers could find mobile food vendors, morning or night.

• Have Food Truck Tuesday when mobile food vendors could set up throughout downtown. Each location would be designated by specially designed signs set on top of a parking meter.

•  Let mobile vendors use metered parking spaces after 5 p.m. weekdays and any time on weekends.

Anthony Rios, owner of Dogs for Cats, asked whether the city's zoning regulations could be amended to allow food trucks in industrial-zoned areas, so trucks could sell to factory workers. Councilwoman Shevawn Akers, chairwoman of the group, said she would check into it.

Akers also said she had talked to Dr. Rice Leach, commissioner of health, about the health department requirement that each time a food truck moves locations the owner has to go to the health department, in person, for a new permit. "He thinks emailing is a sound idea, but I can't write that into our legislation. The health department has to do that," Akers said.

Gene Williams, owner of Natasha's restaurant, applauded the idea of a Food Truck Tuesday, calling it "a forward thinking idea — not contentious and polarizing." Williams said he would be glad to have a food truck park in front of his restaurant on the Esplanade for such an event.

Two changes that pleased Tibbetts was allowing a food truck to have an annual parking permit instead of requiring a new parking permit each time the truck moves to a different location.

Also, Tibbetts said he supported the proposal to let food trucks park in metered parking spaces after 5 p.m. weekdays. "That is huge for us. We would rather get some opportunity to be on public property instead of no opportunity," he said following the meeting.

Tibbetts was cautious in his support of a designated zone for food trucks: "That forces more restrictions on us than we would like." A compromise would be if the zone were in a well-trafficked area like the Fifth Third Bank Pavilion in Cheapside Park, he said.

After the meeting, Akers said there was more agreement among work group members and less contention than she had expected.

The councilwoman will incorporate changes recommended by the work group and bring the amended ordinance back for their approval. A second meeting is set for 8:30 a.m. Thursday in the fifth floor conference room of the Government Center.

Akers wants to submit the food truck ordinance to the council's economic development committee on Feb. 19.

Beverly Fortune: (859) 231-3251.Twitter: @BFortune2010

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