The two-year anniversary of the formation of Lexington’s Itinerant Merchant Task Force was April 20. While progress has been made, Lexington’s Food Trucks are not quite yet free.
Lexington Council Member Shevawn Akers, chair of Lexington’s Food Truck Work Group announced a Pilot Program just before Food Truck Friday, “The Food Truck Work Group has agreed upon a Food Truck pilot program. The Food Truck Work Group was formed in late January, with the purpose of crafting a new Food Truck Ordinance. The group has already been successful in passing a partial ordinance streamlining the permitting process for food truck vendors; however, they are currently limited to operating on private property. The group has since focused on crafting a resolution which would allow these vendors to operate on public streets. This pilot program will be presented as a resolution to the Urban County Council, following approval from the Lexington Parking Authority. The proposed program would allow food truck vendors access to designated parking areas downtown, in order to provide new and diverse food options to the citizens of Lexington.”
The first phase of Lexington’s food truck resolution was passed in February, and was followed by a Food Truck Friday at Cheapside Pavilion. The first phase:
- Eliminated the requirement and subsequent $15 fee for mobile food vendors to update the Division of Revenue with every address where they set up;
- Removed the requirement to obtain a Certificate of Occupancy from Building Inspection; and
- Required business owners to obtain a free Zoning Compliance Certificate valid for two years from the Division of Zoning and Planning to ensure retail food sales are permitted in their zone.
A second Food Truck Friday was held in Cheapside Pavilion on Derby Eve, with most vendors again selling out within a couple hours (as the first one did). Food Truck Fridays are on the first Friday of each month at Cheapside Pavilion, and a portion of proceeds benefit God’s Pantry. Participating vendors have included Ogata’s Hawaiian, The Hub, Athenian Greek Grill, Cluckin Burger, J Renders, TNT BBQ, Bradford BBQ, the Snack Shack, and others. The trucks park on the corridor near the old Courthouse where vendors park during Farmers Market and Thursday Night Live, and they pay a fee to use the space.
Although crowds line up early and stay late for lunch, not everyone is a fan. A few brick and mortar establishments have been vocal in their opposition to food trucks, suggesting that mobile vendors cut into their dining dollar demographic, while paying less infrastructure freight. The long lines at the trucks are conducive to bystander chatter, and several customers who came down to the Pavilion from the nearby office towers pointed out that they are longtime patrons of downtown restaurants, while simultaneously supporting the diversity the trucks provide, and the elevation of downtown as a culinary hub.
Several customers wondered aloud if the new Pilot Program would mean Lexington’s streets will now be blooming with food trucks this summer? One young man who worked in the Fifth Third tower across the street commented on a banner he’d seen while he waited in line, “Free the Food Trucks…that’s funny… Aren’t they free yet?”
Not so fast.
Bluegrass Food Truck Association director Sean Tibbetts says, “While this resolution looks good on the surface it actually forces food truck operators to seek permission from every open business within 100 feet to operate, restricts us to an extremely limited number of parking spaces downtown with very little foot traffic and eliminates our ability to serve anywhere on public or private property within 100 feet of a residence without written permission from the Home Owners Association. Even if we manage to navigate this myriad of hurdles and actually operate, this is only a resolution and is set to expire in six months.”
Many of the vendors are optimistic that this summer will represent an improvement over last summer, but have strong reservations about the proposed resolution. Tibbetts says, “We hope that more trucks will be able to be out and serve various places and times around the county. Our fear is that we will see the same stagnation due to the introduction of many new hurdles to enable us to operate even on private property where we’re allowed to be now.” What would they like to see? “Our sincerest hope is that before this season ends food trucks will have been granted the same rights to use public and private property with appropriate regulations that focus on protecting public health and safety.”
After two years of task forces, and a flurry of activity this year, Tibbetts describes goals for next Summer that sound like the goals put forth by the mobile vendors in 2011. He says, “We would love to see Lexington’s leaders embrace our industry and encourage our participation in a progressive, vibrant and desirable city for the deserving consumers that are food truck fans and the innovative entrepreneurs that are food truck owners.”
Excerpts from the latest food truck draft proposal:
a) Mobile Food Unit Vendors shall not locate or operate on public or private property within one-hundred (100) feet of the property line of a dwelling unit located in an area zoned as a Residential District under the Lexington-Fayette County Zoning Ordinance, without the express written permission of the legally recognized Homeowner’s Association for the affected property. The above restriction does not apply to areas zoned for adaptive re-use.
b) Mobile Food Unit Vendors shall not locate or operate on public property or the public right-of-way within one-hundred (100) feet of the front door of any establishment while it is open for business, unless written approval is obtained from the business owner or the vendor is operating as part of a Special Event.
c) Mobile Food Unit Vendors may operate between the hours of 7am and 10pm in metered spaces in the following On-Street Food Vending Zones:
- Limestone between Vine & Main
- Mill between Vine & Main
- Vine between Broadway & Upper
East High between MLK & Limestone
- Elm Tree Lane between Corral & 4th
- West Main between Jefferson & Felix
- West High between Upper & Mill