Where and when food trucks can set up shop is determined by city and county governments in North Carolina, creating a system of differing ordinances. And, sometimes, confusing logistics for customers.
In Raleigh, food truck hours stretch from six a.m. to three a.m. on non-residential property that has a primary use, so unimproved grass and dirt lots are off limits. Vendors on private property must be at least one hundred feet from the door of any restaurant or outdoor dining area, at least fifty feet from mobile food carts (think hot dog carts), fifteen or more feet from fire hydrants, and five or more feet from accessibility features like driveways, sidewalks, and wheelchair ramps.
In 2016, Raleigh launched a pilot program to bring food trucks to downtown blocks where workers were plentiful but restaurant options were limited. Vendors can reserve spots on streets like South State Street via the Raleigh Street Food Finder app. But pilot program spaces are only permitted between ten a.m. and three p.m. and during First Friday events.
In Cary, trucks must be at least one hundred feet from any restaurant door or other food truck-permitted area, and at least one hundred and fifty feet from the property boundary of any dwelling. No more than three food trucks can be on a permitted location simultaneously. Public property locations are impermissible, except through official Town of Cary events; common-owned residential areas are only allowed as part of a neighborhood-sponsored activity. Hours begin at six a.m. but end at midnight, and a vendor must be removed from the permitted location when operational hours end. Cary prohibits vendors from providing amplified music, outdoor seating, tables, standup counters, or benches.
Crossing into Durham makes things easier. Durham has no hour restrictions on food truck operations, and the city's distance regulations are relatively relaxed. Durham vendors must keep their trucks at least fifty feet from restaurant entrances or outdoor dining tables when the restaurant is open, no less than twenty feet from the entrances and exits of banks and ATMs, ten feet from driveways, fire and police stations, fire hydrants, other mobile food vendors, and allowing four feet of sidewalk space. Durham food truck operators cannot provide seating or tables, but they are allowed one sandwich board sign within thirty feet of the vehicle.
Chapel Hill allows food truck sales on appropriately zoned, privately owned nonresidential property, with a buffer of at least one hundred feet from restaurant entrances, at all hours. Vehicles must be at least fifteen feet from fire hydrants, driveways, and, curiously, tree trunks.
Meanwhile, from six a.m. to 2:30 a.m., food trucks can operate on private lots in a handful of Carrboro's nonresidential zoning districts for business and manufacturing, plus the nonconforming residential lot around Johnny's Gone Fishing. Carrboro has no restaurant distance requirements, meaning Wendy's doesn't keep trucks out of the Steel String Brewery parking lot or the space next to Cliff's Meat Market. All "mobile prepared food vendor" signage in Carrboro must be permanently attached to the vehicle, so no sandwich boards.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Road Rules."