RALEIGH — A city committee wants more debate about whether food trucks should be allowed to operate within city limits.
The Raleigh City Council's law and public safety committee on Tuesday asked city staff to develop a proposed ordinance to be put up for comment during a public hearing in April. More discussion is expected at committee hearings before then.
Food trucks generally aren't allowed to operate on public streets. They can, however, get a special permit for a limited amount of time, but that's more for special events, such as when Fayetteville Street is closed for festivals such as Raleigh Wide Open.
Most food truck owners now travel to Durham or Carrboro where rules permit them to operate.
Council members askedcity staff to design a proposal to allow trucks to operate on private property.
Brick-and-mortar restaurateurs have opposed relaxed regulations for food trucks. They have raised concerns about creating unfair competition for those who have invested thousands, if not millions, in their businesses in the blossoming downtown and Glenwood South areas.
They also raised concerns about food safety and health inspection for food trucks and worried that the trucks would take valuable and scarce parking spots from customers.
On Tuesday, when Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin asked restaurant owners and food truck operators to speak, it got heated at times.
Alex Amra, owner of Tobacco Road Sports Cafe, said he didn't like the idea of having trucks parked outside his Glenwood Avenue sports bar, especially during the current economic downturn.
"I can't put my restaurant in drive and go somewhere else," he said.
He pointed out that there's nothing to stop a pizza truck from parking outside a pizza restaurant and offering competition with lower costs.
At that point, Mike Stenke, the owner of Klausie's Pizza truck, piped up: "But I won't."
Amra responded: "Yeah, sure."
Food truck operators, such as Stenke, countered that their businesses generate tax revenue, create jobs and add to the city's vibrant food scene. They also argue that the City Council should be supporting small business owners, such as themselves.
"Is it the role of City Council to decide who gets to compete?" Stenke asked.
Steven Valentino, owner of Valentino's Italian Food Truck, talked about being unemployed and taking money that he and his wife had saved for a house to start his food truck business.
Valentino says he doesn't want to operate in Glenwood South and has no interest in being overwhelmed by stumbling drunken people wanting food. But he does want to make a living and one day hopes to open his own brick-and-mortar establishment.
Looking across the table at an owner of Zely & Ritz, Valentino said: "I want to be you. ... I love what you guys do.
"I want to be a restaurateur."
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