After two hours of spirited debate, Lexington’s proposed food truck pilot program (recently approved by LexPark) today urban county council voted to walk the proposed pilot onto the Thursday May 23 docket for first reading, “an ordinance creating general regulations for mobile food unit vendors, and an ordinance creating a six-month pilot program for certain mobile food unit vendors to operate in limited parking street spaces.”
“Quite a democratically enthusiastic group we have with us today,” Mayor Jim Gray said, welcoming a nearly full house to Council Chambers for the Tuesday Work Session.
Points of contention included two separate neighborhoods where Council Members asked that a proposed food truck zone be nixed. CM Steve Kay made a motion to amend, striking the corridor on Limestone between Vine and Main, citing its proximity to comparable businesses. “At either end, they’re extremely close to similar businesses…Many businesses have raised issues about parking…” That motion failed.
CM Shevawn Akers (workgroup chair) asked to comment for the record, “there was a previous task force that worked for nearly two years, led by council member Henson. And then I picked up this work group again in January, and we have worked for three months, revising and making amendments and changes and negotiating compromise to come up with this plan. One of the recent workgroups, we brought forward a map that had circles around the restaurants and looked at the 100-feet distance, the 50-feet distance, 200 feet, and these areas were actually identified because they fell outside of those buffers, far enough away from restaurants. They were selected by both the Downtown Lexington Corporation, Renee Jackson [DLC], as well as agreed upon by the parking authority and the Food Truck Work Group approved it and submitted this forward to Council.”
CM Harry Clarke disagreed with Kay. “If we’re going to eliminate another one [zone], the whole concept is being altered.” CM Julian Beard added, “I don’t see the problem with a food truck; it’s not in competition with Bellini’s. I don’t know, who are we protecting? I don’t know why it’s a concern to tell you the truth.” CM Ed Lane added that it’s “a slippery slope. I don’t believe that the intention of this ordinance is to decide who can do business and compete with somebody else. I think it should be: is it a safe location, where there’s adequate parking, and it doesn’t interrupt the operation of daily business…? This is a pilot program. My concern is directed at trying to regulate competition. We are in America. This is a free market system…I worry about us trying to be too restrictive, trying to protect other businesses.”
CM Ford asked that Elm Tree Lane be stricken as a corridor for its proximity to residential (the neighborhood, anchored by the Lyric Theatre on the east end, is currently an underserved dining corridor, with almost no restaurants within a quick walk). Motion passed. An alternative proposed section of nearby Corral street was proposed and passed.
CM Kay said, “I am in favor of food trucks, I think they’ll be a great addition to downtown, but I believe that the underlying intention is to make downtown a more vital and viable place. We’ve worked on it for years. We finally have a downtown that most people would say is working. But if you talk to the restaurateurs, they will tell you that it is a little bit precarious. And if we do this in such a way that, in fact, impedes existing business, then we end up either driving restaurants out of downtown or forcing them to close, then we have undermined our own intention. I think we need to have food trucks. I have sons who live in big cities and they love ‘em, so I’m familiar with them. But I think we need to do this very carefully. That’s why I offered this amendment.”
After two hours of discussion, Vice Mayor Linda Gorton called the question, ended debate, and the proposal advanced to first reading at the Thursday, May 23 at 6 pm, Council meeting.