New policy for Chapel Hill
After 18 months of debate, Chapel Hill Town Council voted to allow food trucks in town starting March 1 — but the leniency comes with strings attached.
In the past, a few food trucks were allowed to operate in town if they met certain, stringent conditions or operated for a special event.
Now, trucks can set up shop downtown and in some nearby areas regularly as long as they have a permit and adhere to set requirements.
But to vend regularly in Chapel Hill, trucks will have to obtain and display a $50 privilege license and pay a $600 annual regulatory fee.
Food truck owners must also pay a $118 zoning compliance fee, as must any business that owns a parking lot where trucks operate.
“I would have to find a property that wants a food truck, and wants one enough to pay to have a food truck,” Stenke said.
Jody Argote, owner of Parlez-Vouz Crepe and a former French professor at Wake Tech Community College, usually parks her truck in Carrboro and Durham. She said she went to meetings to support a new ordinance in Chapel Hill, but isn’t pleased with the result.
“I’m very disappointed,” she said, noting that she already pays fixed costs like rent on a permanent-location kitchen and vehicle maintenance.
“I think that the fees are pretty steep.”
Argote said Chapel Hill isn’t her only market — Carrboro and Durham have long welcomed food trucks, and Raleigh and Hillsborough passed ordinances to allow them this year. She said other towns are less expensive to operate in.
The other side
But Town Council and staff say they aimed to protect taxpayers when creating the ordinance — and the fee schedule hasn’t stopped some from applying.
Kendal Brown, principal planner for the town, said in an email that the town estimates that about 15 trucks will come in total.
Six trucks already had permits to sell in Chapel Hill on a regular basis, and of those one — Baguettaboutit, which specializes in sausages in baguettes — has already applied for and received a license under the new ordinance.
Town Manager Roger Stancil said the town might need to hire a second, part-time enforcement officer to make sure food trucks follow rules. Because food trucks operate outside of normal business hours, he said they could bring significant enforcement costs.
“Our philosophy would be that food truck owners should pay for enforcement,” Stancil explained. “Those costs shouldn’t fall on taxpayers.”
Stancil said though nearby towns charge less, Chapel Hill has determined its fees based on estimates of its own needs.
Town Council member Ed Harrison also said it is unreasonable to compare Chapel Hill’s ordinance with Durham’s more lenient rules, because Durham has less restaurant density and less room for problems arising from competition.
“We had a chamber of commerce and a large group of restaurants that wanted to restrict food trucks,” he said.
Harrison said the fee schedule could be revisited in the future and changed, if need be.
And some believe the fees are far too low.
Katrina Ryan, who owns Sugarland Bakery, said she doesn’t think trucks will pose competition to her own shop, but she worries trucks with less of a stake in Chapel Hill’s well-being could out-price permanent businesses.
Ryan said she hopes Town Council will reassess the fee schedule to make it higher.
She said she also thinks costs trucks create will total more than the fees the council has levied.
“Food trucks are fine, but you need to do a cost analysis and make them revenue neutral.”
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