A new ordinance regulating food trucks in the city of Mobile could hurt new or unestablished operators, opponents of the measure have said.
The biggest issue among those opposed to the new law is the mandated 150 feet between trucks and any outdoor seating areas of brick-and-mortar restaurants. With so many restaurants downtown, the options for food truck operators will dwindle in the same locations where there is the highest concentration of food traffic, Arterious Walker, owner of Smac’s Shack food truck, said.
“You follow the crowd,” he said. “That’s why you have a truck.”
With one notable exception, Walker said, he almost exclusively operates on private property downtown now that he’s been in business for about three years. Early on, however, it might have been a different story and he might have relied upon the traffic of a downtown sidewalk.
“In year one we were gobbling up everything we could and Smac’s Shack would’ve benefitted from [fewer regulations],” he said.
A big believer in the free market, Walker doesn’t love the added regulation that forces trucks away from certain spots. However, he said he doesn’t ever park too close to a traditional restaurant competitor. He does, on occasion, set up near the Lost Garden at 265 Dauphin Street, but never directly in front of a restaurant.
“It’s rude and disrespectful to be out in front of a brick-and-mortar place,” he said. “I think respect should take care of us. For me, it’s not a competition — it’s more of a collaboration with your neighbors.”
The Mobile City Council voted unanimously Wednesday, Feb. 17 to approve the regulations after months of debate and a number of finance committee meetings to straighten out the language.
The journey the ordinance has taken in committee is evident based on the changes to the buffer area between trucks and restaurants. Initially, committee members, including the chairman, Councilman Joel Daves, debated whether a 300-foot buffer area would suffice. In another meeting, the buffer zone was changed to 50 feet before a group of traditional restaurateurs got more involved and the buffer evolved to an effort to split the difference at 150 feet.
Before passing the measure, Daves told councilors the ordinance “fairly reflects” the comments received from the committee by all involved parties. He added the committee recommended it be approved.
Jason Harsany, of Smokin’ Gringos food truck, called the new setback a “good compromise,” but said it’s more of an ethical question than a legal one.
“How they enforce it will be interesting,” he said.
In a previous interview, Harsany said there’s one spot downtown he frequents that might be impacted by the law, but overall the buffer will not impact him too much.
Previous versions of the law, which raised Harsany’s ire a bit more, prohibited doing too much business inside residential areas. However, the new version of the ordinance, substituted in at the meeting in which it was approved, does not limit the number of times a truck can conduct business in a residential neighborhood.
Harsany finds other regulations in the new ordinance unnecessary for most trucks. For instance, he said a requirement for a truck to police its own waste “shouldn’t be an issue.” A prohibition on amplified music also should not be an issue except for for a few bad actors, he said.
“A few dudes come in and crank the music,” he said.
Harsany also called a second permit for use of city parks just “an additional usage fee.” The ordinance requires trucks to get a business license to operate anywhere, but also requires trucks operating in a city park to get an additional permit. The fee can be paid on an annual, quarterly or daily basis. The ordinance leaves the fee amount to parks leadership, but adds it may not exceed $150 per year.
Other regulations require trucks to operate on public rights-of-way during certain hours. Those trucks may operate between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. outside of the entertainment districts. For trucks operating within the entertainment districts downtown, those hours are extended to the hours granted to bars and restaurants in the same area.
Also, if trucks operate on rights-of-way, they must remain 20 feet from an intersection and cannot conduct business with anyone in a vehicle. The trucks must also not park with service windows within the line of traffic.
A truck operating in public space may not take up more than two parking spaces and must pay any parking fees.
David Rasp, owner of Heroes Sports Bar and Grille, called the new ordinance “good” and “fair.”
“I think it works to allow food trucks to operate without disadvantaging brick-and-mortar restaurants,” he said.
Specifically, Rasp praised the buffer regulation language adding outdoor seating areas. The added stipulation would help restaurants like Heroes and Moe’s Original BBQ. He called the setback in general a “good compromise.”
“No one realistically thinks a food truck should be parked right in front of a brick and mortar,” he said. “I think it was a pretty good compromise. I really do.”
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