New lunch options may soon roll into spots along downtown Raleigh streets.
A City Council committee on Tuesday endorsed a proposal to allow food trucks – which are limited to private property and special events – to do curbside business on some city streets.
The proposal is for a six-month pilot program that mostly confines curbside food truck service to downtown’s DX zoning district. A survey commissioned by the Downtown Raleigh Alliance found that most business owners support the new location for food trucks but that most restaurant owners oppose it.
The DX district is roughly bordered by Bloodworth Street to the east, Western Boulevard/Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to the south, St. Mary’s Street to the west and Peace Street to the north.
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Food trucks that pay a $150 fee would be able to operate on most streets within the district from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day of the week and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Fridays when the city hosts its First Friday downtown street fair.
The trucks would be prohibited from operating within 100 feet of brick-and-mortar restaurants. The city also cannot grant permits for trucks to park on the downtown streets that are state roads, including Dawson, McDowell, Blount, Person, Morgan, Edenton and those immediately surrounding the Capitol.
The City Council must approve the proposal to kick it off. City staff hopes to present it to council members on Nov. 17 and recommend that they schedule a public hearing for Dec. 1.
Eventual council support for the pilot program is unclear. Three new members are expected to take office by the time the council votes on it, replacing two of its key architects.
The terms of councilmen Wayne Maiorano and John Odom, who crafted the program in the Law and Public Safety committee, will end in late November. That will leave councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin as the only remaining member of that committee lineup to advocate for the program.
“We want them in restaurant deserts where they can catalyze activity,” Baldwin said. She noted the Warehouse District, the area around the Capitol and the area around the New Bern Avenue-Tarboro Street intersection.
The committee launched its effort to grant food trucks more freedom after more than 1,600 people petitioned the city this summer to loosen regulations.
Food trucks, which Raleigh legalized in 2011, are a growing business in urban areas across the country because their food is often fresh, quick and quirky. The city has helped to boost their popularity locally by holding “rodeos” in downtown Raleigh several times a year.
The dozens of trucks that park on Fayetteville Street during the rodeos draw thousands of people downtown at a time.
Retailers welcome the increased foot traffic, but some restaurants bemoan the competition, said David Diaz, president of the Downtown Raleigh Alliance.
The alliance surveyed more than 40 downtown businesses about their support for the pilot program, he said. While 80 percent of retailers and 67 percent of bars support the program, 86 percent of restaurants oppose it. About 200 alliance members didn’t respond.
Litter and competition were among the top worries of survey-takers, Diaz said.
Food truck operators would be to happy take responsibility for waste and even use biodegradable products as some do in Durham during the city’s rodeos, said Suzie Tower, owner of the Deli-icious food truck.
“That’s something we’d be happy to track and be aware of,” Tower said.
Restaurants shouldn’t worry about losing business, because food trucks and restaurants cater to different demographics, she said.
“People who go to restaurants go there to have a dining experience, to sit down and have conversations with their friends,” Tower said. “We’re there to be a food experience and serve people on the go.”
No one at the committee meeting spoke in opposition to the proposed pilot program.
Raleigh would offer food trucks more freedom than most North Carolina cities, including Durham, if it approves the program, said Art Sheppard, CEO of the recently formed RDU Mobile Food Association.
The move could boost the economy in many ways, he said, from generating more business for downtown retailers to spawning more food trucks. The most successful trucks may even launch their own restaurants.
“It offers more opportunity all around,” Sheppard said of the program.
“We want to get people out of the brown-bag lunch routine.”