Charlotte looks to loosen food-truck rules

Published: Jan. 13, 2015 at 3:40 AM EST|Updated: Feb. 12, 2015 at 3:40 AM EST
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CHARLOTTE, NC (Steve Harrison/The Charlotte Observer) - Charlotte's food-truck vendors are mostly pleased with the city's proposed regulations unveiled Thursday, but there is one sticking point: whether trucks need one-time permits for birthday parties and other special events.

Under the proposed changes, a food truck hired for, say, a back-to-school event on a Saturday morning and a neighborhood block party that evening would need two permits from the city. Under today's fees, each permit would be $155.

"That's a huge sticking point," said Karen Trauner, who owns a mobile ice-cream truck, Sticks and Cones.

She said the paperwork will be a "nightmare" for both the city and food trucks.

"I would rather spend more for an annual permit that will cover everything," Trauner added.

Trauner and other food-truck owners said they don't understand why they would be asked to get special permits when other vendors, such as someone who rents bounce houses, wouldn't need one for the same event.

Another example cited by food-truck vendors: Why would exterminators and lawn-maintenance firms not need special permits for each house they visit?

Donalyn Pizzo, who co-owns with her husband a truck called Gourmet Goombas, said she often is hired to do charity events.

She said she might not be able to pass the cost of a special permit on to her customers.

Still, Pizzo said the proposed rules overall are much better for her business than what the city had previously considered this year.

"They would have put us out of business," Pizzo said about earlier proposals by the city.

The city has struggled with regulating food trucks since 2006, when some neighborhoods complained about trucks parking in residential areas and selling food to nearby workers. A new ordinance was enacted in 2008.

Since then the popularity of food trucks has exploded, and events such as Food Truck Friday in South End are now staples of the community.

Here are some of the proposed changes:

  • The city's current ordinance requires trucks to have a permit for each location they visit. The proposed changes would allow them to list all of their locations under one permit, which would be good for a year rather than 90 days.

That provision will apply to long-standing contracts that trucks have with a business or location. For instance, if a truck owner knows they will work at an office park every Monday, they can list that location on a single permit with other locations.

At Thursday's meeting at the Charlotte Mecklenburg Government Center, a number of vendors cheered when they heard that news.

But food-trucks owners were less happy about having to have permits for one-time, special events.

The current regulation calls for a 400-foot separation between trucks.

The city is proposing allowing more trucks. For instance, four trucks could be on a one-acre lot.

  • Food trucks are required to close by 9 p.m. The proposed changes would allow them to stay open all night. The trucks would have to be 50 feet from any “brick and mortar” eating establishment.

Anglee Brown, whose truck serves Lowcountry cuisine, said no longer having to close at 9 will be a boon.

"A lot of times clubs wanted to hire us after 9, and that was a problem," she said.

  • Food trucks today have to be 400 feet from residential areas. That distance would be reduced to 100 feet.

The changes must still be approved by the City Council, and a vote could be months away.

The city considered enacting rules that would also cover mobile grocery stores and retail, but has postponed that to focus on traditional food trucks.