The Daily Tar Heel

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Monday August 8th

Food trucks debated by council

Proposed changes to Chapel Hill’s food truck regulation drew criticism from town business owners during Wednesday’s Chapel Hill Town Council meeting.

The changes would reduce the $600 annual fee imposed on food trucks and allow more trucks to participate in special events like food truck rodeos.

food truck ordinance

The Chapel Hill Town Council is considering making the following changes to its food truck ordinance, which was adopted in January 2012:

  • Reducing the $600 annual fee required of all food trucks looking to locate to Chapel Hill. The reduction could impact the town’s ability to conduct inspections.
  • Loosening restrictions on food trucks participating in special events by creating a “specialty market operator” position to coordinate events including school festivals and birthday parties.

With the stringent terms of the current ordinance, only one food truck, Baguettaboutit, operates in Chapel Hill.

Tracy Livers, owner of the Olde North State BBQ food truck, said the $600 annual fee is the biggest barrier to coming to town.

“For me that $600 off the bat is just a huge leap of faith because you’re investing money into a site, and you don’t know if there is going to be any sales or not,” she said.

But some Chapel Hill brick-and-mortar establishments think it is unfair to lower the food truck fee.

Sugarland owner Katrina Ryan said she thinks the argument that it’s cheaper to have a food truck in Durham or Raleigh than in Chapel Hill is hollow.

“Everything is more expensive in Chapel Hill,” she said. “Nothing else is in line with what Durham or Raleigh does.”

Randolph Ryan, who also spoke on behalf of Franklin Street business owners, said he strongly opposes any changes to the current ordinance.

“We look at the cost that we bear, which is five, six, or seven thousand dollars in rent, and what is being handed to the food truck vendors,” he said. “It would be unfair to change the ordinance.”

Council member Donna Bell said she still isn’t convinced the annual fee is too high.

“I still don’t think $600 a year is extraordinary, but I also know I don’t have to pay those up front,” she said.

Bell said she’s interested in finding a way for food truck vendors to test the market before making a commitment and paying the regulatory fee.

Council member Jim Ward suggested initially lowering the fee to determine the town’s demand for food trucks.

“I want us to come up with a financial hurdle that is comparable to our neighboring communities and look at the results a year from now,” he said. “I’d like us to get the financial commitment to a point where we actually get some activity we can look at.”

Matt Sullivan, legal adviser for Chapel Hill police, said the town would also need to revise the ordinance to allow food trucks to participate in special events.

“The organizer would pay a fixed fee and the food trucks would pay a fee to participate in that single event, and once that’s done, it’s over,” he said.

The council will discuss the ordinance again in about a month.

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