Chapel Hill, NC: Despite Ordinance, Interest In Food Trucks Lags In CH

Klausies Pizza Truck - Raleigh, NC
By Anne Brenner |
Klausies Pizza Truck - Raleigh, NC

CHAPEL HILL-Four months after Chapel Hill Town Council passed an ordinance to allow food trucks in the town’s boundaries, not many food truck operators have taken advantage of the new regulations—and some are saying that’s because the guidelines are too restrictive.

According to recent reports, including one from the News and Observer, Chapel Hill hasn’t had any applications for food truck vendors since late January, when Town Council first passed an ordinance to make them legal within town boundaries. Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt says the lack of interest might be a result of the associated costs.

“Anecdotally, I think some have said the prices were higher than they’d like, and given the prices in nearby communities, they’ve chosen to continue working there rather than coming to Chapel Hill.”

The ordinance officially took effect on March 1. Prior to that time, Chapel Hill technically did allow food trucks, but only during special events and other highly restricted circumstances. But the ordinance allows food trucks to operate on privately owned nonresidential property in specified zoning districts.

All food truck vendors are required to have a Zoning Compliance Permit and an annual privilege license. Those vendors must also pay $118 for a site permit and $50 for a license, in addition to $600 per vendor to cover inspection and enforcement costs.

Michael Stenke is the owner of Klausie’s Pizza in Raleigh. In light of the costs to operate a food truck in Chapel Hill, he says he’s not surprised by the recent reports.

“Oftentimes, people are getting into food trucks because they can’t afford to open up a restaurant,” he says. “We’re not talking about a million dollar budget to open; we’re talking, in my case for instance, about a hundredth of that.”

Stenke adds that aside from the monetary implications of its food truck ordinance, Chapel Hill would otherwise make an attractive option for his business.

“There’s a lot of great flavors already in Chapel Hill, and there’s room for more,” he says. “Chapel Hill is a great, open, vibrant community, and this law, I think, it very contrary to that.”

Kleinschmidt says although he acknowledges the food truck owners’ concerns, it’s difficult to balance their interests with those of existing businesses.

“This isn’t an issue with just one stakeholder,” he says. “The reason it was hard to draft regulations to begin with, is other people in the community who have concerns about their operations. We want to balance those concerns with those of the folks already doing business in town with those who say they might want to come into town.”

And even though the issue is still a hot-button topic, Kleinschmidt says he’s unsure about how soon Town Council will be able to address the owners’ concerns.

“I’m not sure we’d address it in the coming weeks,” he says. “We’ve got three weeks left in this fiscal year, and we have an extremely packed agenda. I’ve heard a couple council members have questions, and perhaps we’ll get a petition, but I’m just not sure.”

Town Council will hold its final business meeting of the season on June 25, along with a special session on June 27, before going into its summer recess for the months of July and August.