Since Raleigh legalized food trucks a year ago, 18 have been permitted to operate in 11 locations. After receiving only positive feedback about the roaming restaurants, city council now is considering opening up a few more places for them to park.
Previously, food trucks were allowed to park only on commercially zoned private property, at least 100 feet away from restaurants. This made several “pockets” of downtown not zoned commercially off-limits. A proposed change to the ordinance would open up those parcels of land, making the entire downtown overlay district open to food trucks. (They still would have to be on private property, 100 feet from restaurants.)
Another proposed change would allow more food trucks per square acre. Private lots smaller than a half acre in size would be able to host two trucks instead of one. Lots between a half-acre and an acre could host three instead of three, and lots larger than an acre four rather than 3. More than half (six) of the 11 pieces of property now approved for food trucks are smaller than a half acre and can host only one truck.
When the food truck ordinance was adopted last October, city council asked city staff to review the effects of the ordinance after six months. In June, the Raleigh Police Department informed council members there had been no complaints or “negative comments from other businesses” against the food trucks.
At a Law and Public Safety Committee meeting in September, city staff informed council members that “food trucks are not locating within close proximity of existing restaurants. This suggests that increasing the number of food trucks per lot will not have a negative economic impact on the established restaurants that within the area.”
A staff member also said food truck operators had expressed interest in parking on parcels of land downtown with zoning designations other than “commercial.” At least one food truck operator would like to locate at Lincoln Theatre, for example, which has a large parking lot and could host several trucks.
Two food truck operators spoke in support of amending the ordinance at a public hearing Oct. 16.
Michael Stenke of Klausie’s Pizza truck, who asked city council to legalize food trucks two years ago, said in the past year his business has grown, he’s hired people, and that he’s looking forward to opening a restaurant in six months to a year.
Damian Mescante of Philly’s Cheesesteaks said he and his wife put up the money to build their food truck shortly after the ordinance passed in October 2011 and it opened in June. So far he has been permitted to operate in only one location, the parking lot of a women’s clothing boutique called Gypsy Jule.
“In four months’ time, we have businesses around us that support us,” Mescante said. “We have restaurants that order 10 or 12 cheese steaks at a time and bring them back to their staff at 10 o’clock at night. I had five or six police officers a eating at my truck one night.”
“I’d like to see more of this in Raleigh,” he said. “I don’t want to go to Durham. I’ve been here for 23 years. One day I’d like to open up a shop. It’s an avenue for us to become businessmen here in Raleigh.”
Raleigh City Council is expected to vote on the proposed rule changes sometime in November.
As Raleigh considers further loosening its food truck regulations, Durham — the North Carolina city that’s most welcoming to food trucks — may tighten its rules.
Outrage at a July public hearing on the matter caused council members to back away from some of the more drastic restrictions, including one preventing food trucks from setting up near the Durham Farmer’s Market and other “special events.”
Even so, city council will consider establishing a 50-foot buffer separating food trucks from the entrance and outdoor dining areas of brick-and-mortar restaurants. The buffer rule would be waived if a restaurant didn’t object to allowing a food truck within that space. Mobile carts also would be able to pay a $10 registration fee with the city, rather than obtain a separate business permit.
Durham’s vote may occur as early as Nov. 5.
Sara Burrows is a contributor to Carolina Journal.