Wake County

Raleigh food truck proposal faces skepticism

Diners line up to get food from the Chirba Chirba Dumpling food truck on the N.C. State Centennial Campus on April 29, 2015. Raleigh plans to draft a trial program that would allow food trucks to park and serve food on some public streets.
Diners line up to get food from the Chirba Chirba Dumpling food truck on the N.C. State Centennial Campus on April 29, 2015. Raleigh plans to draft a trial program that would allow food trucks to park and serve food on some public streets. cseward@newsobserver.com

The city loves food trucks, really it does, but in true Raleigh fashion, isn’t quite ready to go all in with them.

Some city council members are skeptical of a proposal to allow the trucks to do curbside business on downtown Raleigh streets. Under city rules, food trucks can sell their wares on private property but are prohibited from operating on public roads unless they’re part of a special event.

To test the relationship, the city’s Law and Public Safety Committee, run by Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin, is proposing a six-month pilot program. The pilot would allow food trucks to operate on select city-maintained streets downtown during lunch hours and until 8 p.m. on days when Raleigh hosts its monthly First Friday street fair.

The proposal, which would prohibit food trucks from operating within 100 feet of a restaurant, comes after more than 1,600 people petitioned the city this summer to loosen food truck regulations.

The City Council on Tuesday scheduled a public hearing on the proposal for its 7 p.m. meeting on Dec. 1, but not before Mayor Nancy McFarlane and another councilwoman expressed concerns that the trucks might make too much noise, limit parking and overburden city staff.

“I love food trucks, I just want to make sure we’re thinking about all of the effects,” McFarlane said.

If McFarlane votes against the proposal, the eight-member council is less likely to approve it.

Three business-friendly council members – including two who helped Baldwin craft the pilot program – are leaving the council when their terms expire at the end of the month. One of the new members, Dickie Thompson, was heavily backed by McFarlane and the other, Corey Branch, received a campaign donation from her husband, Ron.

Lottery rules

Under the proposal, food trucks operators who pay a one-time $150 fee would be placed in a monthly lottery.

Lottery winners – selected based on criteria that staff has yet to develop – would be allowed to operate from a parking space in one of five locations: the intersection of New Bern Avenue and Tarboro Road, Oakwood Avenue or Polk Street between Blount and Wilmington streets, the Warehouse District, the area around Marbles Kids’ Museum and Bloodworth Street near the House of Swank clothing shop.

The idea is to meet the needs of busy workers who don’t have the time or the option to sit down at a restaurant anyway, said Susan Tower, owner of the Deli-icious food truck.

Tower, who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting, is one of several food truck owners and advocates who attended Baldwin’s committee meetings and provided input.

The proposed program “shows a forward thinking that makes Raleigh one of the best cities in the nation,” Tower said.

But McFarlane and councilwoman Kay Crowder said they worry that the program could overburden city staff tasked with monitoring it and could generally hurt the downtown atmosphere.

Crowder said the trucks’ generators could bring noise to an area where residents already file many noise complaints, albeit late at night.

“Quiet that sound”

Complaints from downtown residents along the Fayetteville Street corridor were part of the reason the council in August approved controversial downtown sidewalk dining restrictions. The restrictions, which the council recently relaxed, prohibited sidewalk dining after certain hours to reduce noise.

“Perhaps we need to ask them to do whatever (they) can do technologically to those trucks to quiet that sound,” Crowder said of the food trucks.

Crowder was the only council member who voted against setting a public hearing for the proposal. After the meeting, she suggested the council consider a program where food trucks could gather for rodeos each Friday in a different part of town. Downtown parking is already limited and city staff already has new rules to enforce, McFarlane added, referencing the sidewalk dining rules.

Furthermore, McFarlane said the city already granted new freedoms to food trucks in September during its remapping process. The city recently applied new development zones to about a third of the city, expanding development opportunities in some areas and restricting them in others.

City staff planned to prohibit food trucks in some areas where they were already allowed, such as portions of West Peace Street, North Person Street, Five Points and Brier Creek in northwest Raleigh. The City Council voted to allow food truck operations in those areas and the new maps increased the total food truck operating area from 23,300 acres to about 27,300 acres.

“There’s a part of me that feels like I would like to see how some of those changes we’ve made are affecting downtown residential life before enacting more changes,” McFarlane said.

The point of limiting the program to six months is to gather such feedback, said Wayne Maiorano, one of the departing council members.

“The benefit of a pilot project will be to allow us to look back and reflect: are we comfortable with what we’ve got? Do we need to put tighter parameters and revise the policy?” Maiorano said. “I recommend we move forward with this.”

Paul A. Specht: 919-829-4870, @AndySpecht