Lexington considers extending food-truck pilot program

bmusgrave@herald-leader.comDecember 5, 2013 

Customers visited food trucks in April 2012, in a lot between Vine and Main streets in Lexington. The Bluegrass Food Blast was an event to highlight mobile vendors. For several years, food trucks have sought more access in downtown.

PHOTO BY DAVID PERRY | STAFF — HERALD-LEADER Buy Photo

The Urban County Council is considering extending a pilot program to allow food trucks in certain areas of downtown Lexington.

Council in June approved a six-month pilot program allowing food trucks in six downtown zones.

During Thursday's meeting, council gave first reading to an ordinance that would extend the program until March 2014. A final vote will be taken Tuesday. Additionally, the council wanted to review the program more thoroughly during a February economic development committee.

Councilwoman Shevawn Akers, who pushed for the creation of the pilot program, said there have been no parking or other violations issued to the vendors who have been participating.

But several council members said they felt that the community should have more opportunity to provide feedback on the food truck program before the program is extended.

Council members Ed Lane, Harry Clarke and Akers voted against the three-month extension because they wanted to extend the program until December 2014. "People are always talking about how good the food is," said Lane said, noting that he had received no complaints about the program.

Sean Tibbetts, president of the Bluegrass Food Truck Association, said that the pilot program has proven to be successful. "We went six months with no complaints," Tibbetts said. ""How many months do we have to prove ourselves?"

Only four vendors have been participating in the pilot program. Two key factors limited participation, Tibbetts said.

One issue was restrictions that the Lexington Parking Authority, which controls parking in Lexington, placed on the program. The authority allowed the trucks to park only at metered spots for two hours between 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. That was not enough time for a lunch set up and tear down for most food trucks, Tibbetts said.

Also, Tibbetts said there was confusion about whether food truck operators had to post a $500 bond every year or only during the first year of operation. That also gave a lot of food trucks pause before participating in the program.

Food vendors said despite the limited participation in the program, they want it to continue.

"We're just thankful that the city has been willing to work with us," said Jason Cullen, who runs Cullen Carts, a hotdog stand. "I hope that it can be a success."

Tibbetts, who also owns Cluckin' Burgers, said extending the pilot program will give the group an opportunity to work with the parking authority to extend the amount of time they can spend at metered spots in the six zones where food trucks are allowed to operate.

The Bluegrass Food Truck Association negotiated a lease with Chase bank on Main Street, where food trucks have routinely served food since August. That allows the food trucks to be downtown longer than two hours, Tibbetts said.

Cullen said that many food trucks and carts were already booked when the pilot program began. Giving the pilot program additional time may result in more food trucks participating, Cullen said.

Robin Feeney, manager of the Town Branch Market, across from the Chase Bank plaza, said she would prefer that the food trucks were not parked within 50 feet of the grocer and deli's front door. "It just seems that there needs to be a level playing field," Feeney said. "I don't see the point of an ordinance if they can get a lease on private property."

Trucks are allowed anywhere in downtown Lexington after 5 p.m. as long as they are 100 feet or more from an open business or a residential area.

Tibbetts said that although there has been limited participation in the pilot program, food trucks have taken off in the Bluegrass. The association began in July with only four members. Today, it has 24. Lexington was recently named the seventh-best city in which to run a food truck.

Beth Musgrave: (859) 231-3205. Twitter: @HLCityhall.

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