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City, Operators Seek To Clarify Food Truck Regs

By J. Elias O'Neal, posted Apr 10, 2013

In an effort to craft new food truck regulations, members of Wilmington’s planning staff met with more than a dozen restaurant and food truck operators Wednesday morning to gauge their input on proposed amendments to existing city regulations.

There are currently no specific regulations for mobile food vendors in the city.

Planning staff members are hoping to add mobile food units to the list of permitted temporary uses in an effort to help clarify regulations for mobile food vendors, which are growing in popularity across the city.

The public comment period about changes to food truck regulation will end April 30.

“We’re trying to remove as much ambiguity in the code as possible,” said Brian Chambers, city planner and project manager leading the effort to reform existing regulation for mobile food vendors. “We’re not trying to ban food trucks; we’re trying to get as much input from industry before this goes to a public hearing.”

Under the current regulations, mobile food trucks, carts and trailers must apply for a temporary special sales permit. The permit allows the mobile food vendors to establish operations in commercial and industrial districts. No more than five temporary special sales events are allowed per business, in which vendors must wait a minimum of 45 days to apply for another permit.

That gave James Smith, owner of the Patty Wagon food truck, heartburn.

After meeting with city staff, Smith proposed making changes to the regulations, including getting rid of the time requirement to apply for a temporary special sales permit, establishing hours of operations between 6 a.m. and 3 a.m. and not establishing a mobile food operation within 50 feet of the main entrance of a nearby restaurant.

Gathered in groups, staff members armed with markers facilitated additional discussion by having attendees answer three key questions: What are the major issues regarding food trucks? Where should food trucks be permitted? Should food trucks and food carts be regulated differently?

Keith Rhodes, owner of Wilmington-based Catch and Phun Noodle Bar, operates a food truck in various locations across the city.

He said the city should adopt regulations for mobile food vendors that transcend the central business district borders and establish regulations that are fair and easy to decipher.

Others wanted to see food trucks grouped in one particular area, while some operators said keeping a minimum distance from stationary restaurants was important.

“We need something on the books that show we exist,” Smith said.

But some in attendance weren’t so supportive of the city’s efforts to amend the existing regulations. 

Jonathan Windham, owner of four Jimmy John’s franchises in Wilmington including the Market Street location downtown, said by loosening the existing restrictions, food trucks could interfere with brick-and-mortar businesses – especially downtown.

He said while he supports the mobile food vendor locations at events and festivals, the existing regulations should be maintained. 

“It’s just not fair to those existing businesses, especially the ones downtown that have spent money and invested in their property,” Windham said.

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