Food truck operations in the City of Saline will remain unchanged after Saline City Council voted Monday night to reject an ordinance that would regulate them.
The vote came after a 30-minute discussion. The main issue continues to be the uneven application of the ordinance. The ordinance would tightly restrict food trucks in the downtown commercial district while allowing them to operate more liberally in other commercial districts.
Council continues to hear from downtown stakeholders who want the ordinance to protect downtown restaurants from food trucks. A recent ordinance, passed by planning commission, was amended by the city’s attorney after it ran into opposition at the council table. The new ordinance would allow food trucks on privately owned lots as long is there is a 12-foot clearance for customers to pick up food. That clearance space should not include parking spaces or ingress or egress lanes.
Holli Andrews, Director of Saline Main Street, said she polled downtown restaurant owners. She said that many of the restaurateurs’ concerns were addressed in the ordinance. But, she said, the city should be clear about its priorities.
“Our downtown establishments always have to be the priority when we’re inviting vendors and food trucks into the downtown – especially in the D1 (zoning) district. A lot of them are very interested in food trucks coming, but they are concerned that they do not interrupt events that are designed to support their success,” Andrews said.
For example, the Summer Music Series events are designed to attract people to restaurants downtown on Thursday evenings.
Andrews said it might work better for existing restaurateurs if there was a designated area for food trucks.
“It would also work better (for restaurant owners) if they were given the opportunity to fill some of those designated spots first,” Andrews said.
Another priority, she said, is that food trucks do not displace existing public parking spaces – which the ordinance stipulates. The owner of Mac’s Acadian Seafood Shack also forwarded a letter detailing their concerns to city council members. This letter was not publicly available Monday.
Councillor Janet Dillon was the first on council to take a crack at the ordinance. She noted a new definition of food trucks and asked Clerk Terri Royal about it. The new definition says that food trucks must have a kitchen. Such a designation would exclude the Kiwanis truck and Lions ice cream truck from regulation under this ordinance.
Dillon said the ordinance would make it very difficult for anyone to operate a food truck downtown.
“It’s putting up so many obstacles that it wouldn’t be viable,” Dillon said. “If a food truck is located in a parking lot, how is it going to exist 12 feet away from a parking space?”
Councillor Christen Mitchell said it was a difficult issue and that she was hearing differing opinions.
“I feel torn. Every resident I talk to wants more food trucks downtown. Every single restaurant owner I speak with does not want food trucks downtown,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell also said it felt like over-reach to tell property owners what they could and couldn’t do with their private property. Council Jack Ceo also had questions along those lines.
But, as City Manager Todd Campbell, this is what the city does in every zoning district.
Councillor Dean Girbach motioned to pass the ordinance with an amendment – that food trucks not be allowed in areas zoned for professional business. Girbach said many of these areas are in residential neighborhoods and that he didn’t think residents would appreciate food trucks in neighborhoods. Mayor Brian Marl seconded Girbach’s motion.
After the discussion, Marl realized the motion was going to fail. There were no votes in favor of the ordinance – although it wasn’t clear that all seven members of council voted against the ordinance either.
Marl said he hoped council would discuss the issue at an upcoming work session, come to a consensus, and pass an ordinance in May.
Until then, there are no ordinances regulating food truck operations.
One business that sometimes utilizes a food truck is Stony Lake Brewing Company. The microbrewery does not have a kitchen and invites its patrons to bring their own food. The Saline Farmers Market has also used food trucks.