by Maggie Spini
Durham food trucks have long enjoyed more lenient operating rules, especially compared with Chapel Hill and Raleigh. But now the Bull City's mobile vendors could be subject to stricter regulations, if a proposed amendment to a city ordinance passes.
Durham planning officials will hold a meeting tonight at 5:30 at City Hall to discuss the potential changes to the city’s Mobile Vending Provisions ordinance that would affect how local food trucks operate on public property.
The ordinance includes new rules about where and when mobile vendors—wheeled or un-wheeled vehicles, carts, stands, tables and other devices—can park. Grace Smith, planning supervisor for the Durham City-County Planning Department, called the ordinance a “working document.” The amendments are subject to change based on input gathered at Monday’s meeting, she said. No proposals have yet been considered by City Council, which must vote on any amendments.
“We were looking at vending in general and how our city code wasn’t up to date,” Smith said.
City staffers have been discussing potential changes over the past year in an attempt to streamline regulations for mobile vendors into a single ordinance, she added. The proposals are based on similar ordinances in other cities, input from various government departments and complaints and suggestions from businesses and vendors.
Among the most controversial changes outlined in the proposal is a rule prohibiting food trucks from operating in Durham Central Park during the Saturday and Wednesday farmers market and when other special events are held in the park. Smith said that some farmers market vendors have contacted her department over the past two years and asked for a buffer zone to be established between the market and mobile food vendors.
But Yoni Mazuz, who co-owns an ice cream truck, The Parlour, said city staff never presented a public interest case for why the changes are needed, leaving many food vendors surprised by the proposals.
“I feel like we have a symbiotic relationship with the farmers market,” Mazuz said. “The trucks around here contribute to the general area and its reputation that it’s great for food and local business. In the end, every food business competes with every food business to some degree, but they also complement each other.”
In addition, mobile vendors would be barred from operating at special events near closed or blocked streets without permission. Nor could they operate within 100 feet of the main entrance of a restaurant without permission from that restaurant’s operator.
Smith said the rule was included due to complaints from some restaurants and modeled in part after rules in other cities, such as Chapel Hill, which have much stricter rules than Durham.
Monuts Donuts owner Lindsay Moriarty, who is also a member of Durham Alliance for Food Innovation and Entrepreneurship, said the rule is unnecessary and unfair. “It sets up the precedence for discriminating against vendors and giving restaurant owners a little more pull with the city,” she said.
Since the proposal’s announcement by Durham city staff, DAFIE—a group of local entrepreneurs, supporters and friends of the food industry—launched a website in support of food trucks. The website explains how the changes would affect mobile vendors and encourages the public to attend Monday’s meeting.
“One of our primary objectives is just to get the word out and making sure people understand the ordinances,” Moriarty said. “There’s a lot of good that can come out of this process. We don’t want the argument to be us versus restaurants or the city versus food trucks.”
Moriarty said she and other members of the group support the city’s efforts to streamline regulations for food vendors, and applaud its efforts to improve pedestrian and public safety. But, the group also wants the public to be aware of some proposed rules they feel are bad for local business.Other rules included in the ordinance are that mobile facilities cannot occupy more than one on-street parking space, which is difficult for larger trucks. Nor can they supply customer seating. The vendors must allow 4 feet of unobstructed space for pedestrians on sidewalks and have to set up at least 10 feet from areas with high pedestrian traffic, such as crosswalks, bus stops, taxi stands, building entrances and exits. Trucks must be at least 25 feet from street intersections.