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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Raleigh decides food trucks aren't the boogeyman after all, passes new rules to allow vendors in city

Posted by on Tue, Sep 6, 2011 at 4:09 PM

Updated with additional reporting from Bob Geary

After a year of wrangling, the Raleigh City Council finally approved new food truck regulations today that will allow mobile vendors to operate on private property.

The vote was 6-2 with Councilmen John Odom and Thomas Crowder opposed.

The new ordinance, which will take effect Oct. 1, provides that food trucks must be at least 100 feet from the main entrance or outdoor dining area of any brick-and-mortar restaurant and at least 50 feet from any food vending cart such as a hot dog stand. The trucks can operate from 6 a.m. to 3 a.m., but they can only park within 150 feet of a single-family home or duplex between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.

Crowder's not a fan of food trucks setting up shop in a business district that borders a residential neighborhood — a commonplace in his District D, especially around N.C. State University — and being allowed to operate until 3 a.m., which is what the ordinance permits unless a house is located within 150 feet of the truck. In that case, the trucks must stop at 10 p.m.

A last-minute change put the food trucks on the same late-night, 3 a.m. closing plan as stationary food carts — e.g., hotdog carts. The penultimate version of the food-truck ordinance had them closing at 1 a.m.

Odom said he's on the side of the restaurant owners who fought having food trucks anywhere near their establishments. "I don't think the city of Raleigh is going to fall apart if we don't have food trucks, Odom said. He added, a bit gratuitously, that's he's not interested in Raleigh being like Durham, where food trucks are a happening thing.

On the other side, Councilor Mary-Ann Baldwin, who chairs the Law & Public Safety Committee, worked for a year to fashion a compromise that the restauranteurs didn't hate and the food-truck operators could live with. In the end, she couldn't satisfy either, but she did manage to get a version of the ordinance out of her committee even though Odom and Eugene Weeks, the other two members of her committee, both opposed it.

When the ordinance came to the Council table today, Weeks was all of a sudden willing to vote for it, at least for the six-month trial period that Baldwin added at the last moment. Mayor Charles Meeker, mayoral candidate Nancy McFarlane, Bonner Gaylord and Baldwin's fellow at-large Councilor Russ Stephenson all voted yes as well.

Klausie's Pizza owner Mike Stenke, who has helped lead the charge to allow food trucks broader access in Raleigh, says history has been made.

Where will the trucks be allowed under the ordinance? It's easier to say where they won't be allowed: In a residential zone; in most office zones; within 150 100 feet of any restaurant's front door or outdoor dining area; and in any vacant lots.

They will be allowed in parking lots that are part of a shopping center, a neighborhood-business district, a thoroughfare-business district, or an industrial-business district, as long as the owner wants them there — and there's no restaurant within 100 feet or house within 150 feet.

No more than three food trucks will be allowed in the same lot, however, and three only if the lot is an acre or more.

Food trucks are prohibited on streets, including marked parking spaces. There are no designated places for them, only a set of rules about where they can't go.

The upshot: If they can find a host business (a parking lot or a business with a parking lot), and it's not close to a restaurant or a house, they can get a permit for a year at a total cost of $224. If, during the year, a house or restaurant should open, they can't finish the year, but after that the permit expires.

All this, said Travis Crane, a planning staff member who's been working with Baldwin, means a district like Glenwood South "would be largely tied up" — that is, off-limits to a food truck.

Odom, though, thinks there are plenty of places on Boylan Avenue, at the edge of Glenwood South, where food trucks will be able to operate but shouldn't be allowed — because of their proximity to restaurants and residential neighborhoods.

We'll see. If the point of a food-truck ordinance is to welcome them to downtown Raleigh, this version of one doesn't seem to fill the bill.

Rather, it prevents them from operating where the people are, which is where the restaurants are.

The council will reassess the rules in six months. The group was expected to vote on an ordinance in July before deciding that more work was needed. That proposal called for trucks to park 100 feet away from businesses.

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