Like a child chasing an ice cream truck, the City of Charlottesville is hoping to catch up to the rapid growth of the mobile food scene. City staff are in the process of amending and creating ordinances as part of a collaborative effort with a growing number of vendors to make it easier for them to do business.
City Zoning Administrator Read Brodhead said food trucks began popping up on the Corner two years ago, and now number about a dozen, many of them dishing out lunch Downtown on weekdays. But the code that dictates exactly where they can do business is outdated. It regulates tinkling music and requires flashing amber lights—rules more suited to the Good Humor truck than somebody serving sliders.
”I think it was written about 40 years ago,” said Brodhead, who began to research ordinances in other cities that regulate food trucks, and then reached out to several local vendors.
Justin Wert, who operates the Mouth Wide Open food truck with his wife, Keshia, is one of the vendors who has met with city officials. Wert said he contacted the city last summer before starting his business because the rules were so confusing. “Under current law, you cannot operate on private property, which is the strangest thing. You’d think it would be the other way around,” said Wert, who got his truck up and running in January.
The city maintains it wants to help food trucks thrive, and is in the process of approving an ordinance that will allow the vendors to operate on private property in mixed-use and commercial zoning districts. Brodhead said the new ordinance, which could be approved by City Council as early as next month, would require operators to apply for an annual provisional use permit in order to set up on private property. Each permit would allow the holder to park at up to 10 sites in the city. The new rules also come with some restrictions, like prohibiting trucks from parking or making sales in front of an established restaurant during the restaurant’s operating hours.
But several of the city’s newest vendors say they are comfortable with the new regulations.
“Overall, I think it’s fantastic that steps are being taken to try to give us some borders,” said Quinton Harrell, who hopes to have his food truck operating by the end of May.It gives him the impression the city has the political will to support entrepreneurship.
Patrick Kim, who has been selling Korean barbecue tacos and other fusion food out of Hanu Truck since February, said while he agrees that food trucks should meet guidelines, he doesn’t want them overregulated.
“If we have the permits to sell food, that should be all the regulations you need,” Kim said.
Michael Turk owns Turkish Street Foods, which set up shop last summer at the Charlottesville City Market. He said vendors have been regulating themselves and there hasn’t been a problem yet. He said the city is really regulating for future use.
“Almost every month, there is a new food truck hitting the road,” Turk said, adding there should be guidelines in place for new vendors. “If they want to play this game, they need to play by the same rules.”—Darren Sweeney