Board accepts Lexington's food trucks ordinance

jwarren@herald-leader.comMay 16, 2013 

The Lexington Parking Authority board of commissioners voted Thursday to accept the proposed new city food truck ordinance, subject to several modifications.

Commissioner Wayne Masterman, who operates Portofino restaurant on East Main Street, cast the lone dissenting vote, arguing that the proposed ordinance involves "too many unknowns, and too many unknown consequences."

The pilot proposal would allow food trucks to stop in metered public parking places in specified areas downtown and sell food to pedestrians between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. They could operate between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. in any on-street parking areas where it is otherwise legal to park, with certain restrictions.

The mobile units now can operate only on private property.

The parking board's requested changes essentially would tighten up the proposal. One modification, for example, would limit food trucks to no more than half of the parking spaces in operating zones designated by the ordinance. Truck operators also would be required to use pay-by-phone to pay for the parking spaces they use. Commissioners said that would ensure that operators do pay rather than simply feeding the parking meter whenever they see an enforcement officer approach.

Urban County Councilwoman Shevawn Akers, who heads the working group that is drafting the food truck proposal, called the parking board's suggestions "very reasonable." They should pose no problems, she said.

The board's other suggestions include removing South Mill Street from the list of areas where food trucks could operate; adding West Vine Street between South Upper and Mill streets to the list; and prohibiting trucks from offering tables and chairs for customers.

Other provisions already in the proposed ordinance would ban food trucks from operating within 100 feet of the main entrance of any business during its posted operated hours. They also would be prohibited in residential zones.

The proposed ordinance notes that mobile food vendors are increasingly popular and says food trucks could "contribute to a vibrant and diverse food experience in Lexington."

However, Masterman said he still has questions. Generally speaking, Masterman said, expanding food truck operations would lead to an "uneven playing field" for brick-and-mortar restaurants downtown.

"I do feel that by allowing them to use the public streets we're creating an unfair advantage," he said after Thursday's meeting. "There are a lot of regulations and burdens on restaurants, and I think that people who are in buildings have to pay a lot more money and attention to things that people in trucks don't have to do."

Masterman said he'd like to see the trucks continue to operate on private property.

Meanwhile, Akers contended that food trucks could become "incubators for small business." Many successful food-truck operators eventually might choose to start their own brick-and-mortar restaurants, she said. Indeed, Akers said some have already started to do that.

The proposed ordinance can move forward now that it has the parking commissioners' endorsement.

Akers said her plan is to bring up the proposal for first reading at next week's council session, with passage possible in early June.

The proposed ordinance would authorize food trucks in designated public parking places for an initial six-month pilot period only. During that time, officials could evaluate how well the system worked and fix any kinks that developed. If the plan is approved in June, it apparently would be good through December.

Jim Warren: (859) 231-3255.

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