Lexington food trucks discussion heats up; councilwoman to present revised ordinance

bfortune@herald-leader.comJune 13, 2013 

Food trucks proponents say the Lexington Parking Authority's decision Thursday to limit the trucks to two hours a day at metered spaces dooms the food truck pilot program to failure.

Making no attempt to disguise his displeasure, Urban County Councilman Harry Clarke said two hours is not enough time for food trucks to set up, break down and serve. He called the two-hour limit "a bad decision" and said it effectively makes food trucks second-class citizens.

"If you don't want food trucks in the city, this is the way to do it," Clarke told Parking Authority board members during a meeting Thursday.

With a two-hour time limit, "We have pretty much eliminated food trucks from downtown during the day. They are going to pull out," he said after the meeting.

Urban County Council recently endorsed a food truck ordinance and gave a first reading to a six-month pilot project to allow mobile food vendors to set up on metered parking spaces — between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. weekdays — in designated zones in the downtown area. The second reading was delayed because the Parking Authority said it wanted to work out all of the details.

The time limit wound up being a major point of contention Thursday, overshadowing a decision to add two new zones in which food trucks can park.

Councilwoman Shevawn Akers, chairwoman of the council's food truck work group, said she would introduce a revised ordinance, whichwill make changes to the time restrictions, at council work session on Tuesday.

"I don't care if we give them all of Main Street, Short Street, all of downtown. Two hours is not enough time to vend, so it makes it irrelevant," Akers said.

Amanda Tibbetts and her husband Sean will not be bringing their Cluckin Burger truck downtown. Instead, the Tibbetts will take their food truck to festivals, special events and locations where they can set up on private property, especially at breweries, she said.

"It takes us 30 minutes to set up, 30 minutes to tear down; that leaves only an hour to serve. That makes it very difficult," Amanda Tibbetts said after the meeting.

Parking officials have said the changes were needed to encourage turnover at metered parking spaces and provide equal parking opportunities for everyone.

Because the pilot program involves letting trucks use public right-of-way that is under control of the authority, "It is up to authority to decide how that space is to be utilized," James Frazier III, Parking Authority board chairman, said after the meeting.

Frazier added: "The actual day-to-day usage falls under our purview. That's why council needed us to drill down on how the pilot project's going to work, where it's going to work, how long it's going to work."

The Parking Authority's food truck policy clarifies how, when and where food trucks can operate on public property. It sets up six zones: The 100 block of East High, the 100 block of West High, the 300 block of Martin Luther King Boulevard and the 200 block of East Corral Street. These zones were already approved by the Parking Authority.

On Thursday, two more zones were added on Vine Street — between South Upper to South Mill, and South Mill to South Broadway.

Between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. weekdays, food trucks have to stay in these zones if they want to park on the street.

They cannot occupy more than half of the spaces. Owners have to call the Parking Authority each day to say where they will be set up, and pay $1 per hour.

From 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., trucks can stay in the zones because the Parking Authority doesn't monitor meters after 5 p.m., said Gary Means, executive director of the Parking Authority.

From 10 p.m. to 3 a.m., trucks can be on any street, as long as they respect a 100-foot buffer around open businesses and residential areas.

The two-hour limit makes parking meters equitable for everybody, board members said. Frazier said it was a balanced policy.

But Clarke said he didn't think it was balanced at all.

"We're relegating food trucks to second class status," he said. "What we're saying is we don't want the vibrancy they bring to downtown. Maybe during bar time, but not during the day when a lot of people are downtown doing their business."

At one point, board member Wayne Masterman, owner of Portofino's restaurant, moved that the Parking Authority withdraw support for the food truck program. The motion died for lack of a second.

Akers made no secret after the meeting of her frustration with the Parking Authority's action.

"It was a weak attempt to appease the food trucks and council by appearing to bend and negotiate by reinstating Vine Street," she said, adding that "two hours is unreasonable."

What Akers intends to do now is revise the food truck ordinance and open up all of downtown sometime before 10 p.m. to let food trucks set up anywhere until 3 a.m.

"From 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. they would be in zones, but after 5 p.m., or 8 o'clock or 9 o'clock, food trucks could go any place, as long as they respect the 100-foot buffer," she said,

Akers said she will talk to other council members for their input, then introduce a revised ordinance at council's work session Tuesday.

The ordinance would get a first reading June 20 and a second reading July 2.

Food truck owner Jason Noto, from Scott County, said he won't be coming to Lexington. "Spaces can't be reserved, so basically I prepare my food in Scott County, haul my rig to Lexington and take a chance on finding a space where I sell for two hours," he said.

From a business standpoint, "It's too restrictive, and too risky," Noto said.

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

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