Last year, after more than two years of trying to work out a regulatory framework that would make it possible to have more and better street food in Lexington, it seemed like the effort had run aground.
Any hope of being able to buy a crepe on the street was mired in a set of almost impenetrable city complications about inspections, revenue collection and enforcement, plus health department concerns about inspecting these moving kitchens, and the unease brick-and mortar-restaurants feel about such mobile competitors.
But the new year has brought hope. Vice Mayor Linda Gorton appointed a work group with a narrow, well-defined charge and a specific time line. Meanwhile, city planners and lawyers had been working to streamline and clarify an ordinance. The result has been one meeting at which things went more smoothly than experience would have suggested.
The city has no authority over the health department, which has been concerned about how to assure kitchens on wheels are safe. But there are signs that it might be open to using technology to allow the department to keep track of the vendors without placing an excessive burden on the businesses.
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We're hoping this positive start means the group will have a proposal that the Urban County Council can act on before the outdoor eating season is upon us this year. The group meets again Thursday and councilwoman Shevawn Akers, the chair, said she hopes to have an ordinance to submit to the council's economic development committee on Feb. 19.
Brick-and-mortar restaurant owners, who have made significant investments in their businesses, have legitimate concerns about how street food might affect them. We think that more action downtown would benefit everyone. Ultimately, the only way to answer these questions and concerns, and some we can't anticipate, is to give street food a try.
There's a lot of excitement about the wonderful public spaces envisioned in the Rupp area plan and the Town Branch Commons proposal chosen just last week. Both are designed to get more feet on the street in downtown Lexington. Not a shovel has been turned on either project, but when those spaces are ready and people arrive, we hope they'll find something good to eat on the streets of Lexington.