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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Chapel Hill paves the way for more food trucks

Posted by on Tue, May 14, 2013 at 10:56 AM

Good news for foodies in the Triangle: Chapel Hill's Town Council has cut fees and amended rules to make the town more food truck friendly. With new policies, the council hopes more food trucks will come find their home on the hill.

Currently only one food truck—Baguettaboutit, which sells North Carolina-made sausage tucked in French baguettes—is approved to sell in Chapel Hill.

This likely will change after Monday night’s meeting, at which council members unanimously agreed to reduce the annual regulatory fee for food trucks from $600 to $200. They also approved measures allowing trucks to provide catering services and to participate in special events and markets in town.

“We realize that we have limited places in town where we were allowing food trucks, and we wanted to make it available anywhere they could be appropriate,” Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said.

Before they can roll in Chapel Hill, food truck owners must navigate through the red tape of forms and fees. Annual regulatory fees cover on-site inspections making sure that food trucks follow zoning, health and safety laws. The trucks also face an annual $25 business license fee and a one-time $118 zoning compliance fee to sell in a given location. Ideally, property owners pay this zoning cost, but food truck owners may be responsible for the bill if they want to sell in lots where owners won’t pay.

For food truck markets or “rodeos,” event organizers will be charged $200 for inspections, but the fee is waived for nonprofits such as churches and schools.

These new rules will be a game-changer for Tracy Livers, an owner of Olde North State BBQ food truck and catering business, who attended the meeting to advocate for food trucks. When the council set the regulatory fee at $600 in 2012, Livers stopped bringing her food truck to Chapel Hill. With the fee cut, Livers plans to return, and she anticipates other food trucks will join her.

Livers said the new rules reflect a changing attitude toward food trucks in Chapel Hill. “I think as a whole, when we first started, it was a new concept and people were kind of scared about food trucks,” she said. “But now that they realize we are inspected by the health department, in general people have become more comfortable with food trucks.”

Livers currently sells in Durham, Raleigh, Cary, Saxapahaw, Pittsboro and Morrisville, and she sees a need for food trucks in Chapel Hill. “There are places that food trucks can go where restaurants can’t, like to swimming pools that don’t have food, and to community and neighborhood parties and fundraisers,” she said.

Yet as Mayor Pro Tem Ed Harrison notes, Chapel Hill can’t compete with bigger cities that have more space for food trucks, with ample parking lots and wider sidewalks.

“There are a thousand more places for food trucks in Durham,” Harrison said. “Durham is six times the size of Chapel Hill and people don’t realize that. You could fit a whole other Chapel Hill in Durham and not even notice.”

Still, Councilman Lee Storrow said he hopes the reduced fees and new opportunities for markets will still make Chapel Hill a more competitive destination for food trucks.

“I think they bring vibrancy and energy to urban settings and give consumers options,” Storrow said. “In this difficult economic climate, they give entrepreneurs innovative ways to start new businesses and get their feet wet in a market.”

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Chapel Hill's Town Council voted Monday to cut fees and loosen some rules for food trucks, in hopes of luring more of them to town.

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