Montgomery, AL: Ordinance to look at giving food trucks mobility

Matthew Causey prepares food at Fat Man’s Smokehouse on 2381 Cong W L Dickinson Drive
in Montgomery. (Photo: Albert Cesare/Advertiser)

By Matt Okamus  |  Montgomery Advertiser

Matthew Causey prepares food at Fat Man’s Smokehouse on 2381 Cong W L Dickinson Drive in Montgomery. (Photo: Albert Cesare/Advertiser)
Matthew Causey prepares food at Fat Man’s Smokehouse on 2381 Cong W L Dickinson Drive
in Montgomery.
(Photo: Albert Cesare/Advertiser)

Matthew Causey works five days a week out of a food truck on Congressman W L Dickinson Drive, but if he had his way it would be six.

Fat Man’s Smokehouse, a food truck specializing in barbecue where Causey serves as manager, is currently located at an address that doesn’t see much traffic on the weekends. And while his business has wheels, Causey is limited to his registered address.

That is, for now. If an ordinance currently being written by the department of planning and development gets approved, Causey will have more flexibility on where to serve barbecue to paying customers.

The issue is that for now food trucks, vehicles built for traveling, must stay in one place.

Lynda Wool, senior planner in Montgomery’s department of planning and development, said they can move, but must meet certain restrictions.

“They are allowed, but they have to have a notarized note from the owner of the parcel where they intend to place the food truck,” Wool said. “It has to be on the ground, it can’t be in the right of way or on the street. They have to pull it in the lot.”

Wool further adds that the parcel of land must be in a commercial zone.

But the ordinance her department is currently trying to draft would give the food trucks more options.

“We are trying to allow them to be an entity that can go on the street and park in different places,” she said.

The thought of being able to move locations would be “unreal” to Causey.

“If I could move, I would move most days,” he said. “Especially with so many events coming up.”

Causey has been at the Congressman W L Dickinson location, on the property that includes Mickey’s Bar, for about three months. He previously located at various other locations but said it was hard to keep up with due to the requirement of a business license for each address.

Wool pointed out the process for a food truck to obtain a business license does not eliminate the need for a public health certificate and the suggested ordinance would also not eliminate that.

Part of the health code requirements is for the truck to be cleaned, with Wool saying they would not be able to stay parked overnight. Causey confirmed that he must take his truck back to a Prattville location to restock and have it cleaned.

Wool couldn’t say exactly how many food trucks Montgomery has, but said the number may be less than a half-dozen. Part of the reason to draft the ordinance would be to entice more business in the area.

“We want to become a little more up to date in what we allow to happen in our city,” Wool said. “I think food trucks have been around many years and have been popular in places, and I believe that there’s been some demand — that it would add some vitality.”

One of the focused areas of the ordinance is downtown, where one of the main obstacles comes into play. Wool said a current issue is the request for street parking, with the trucks having to adhere to the 1-hour time limit for parking spaces in downtown.

“It hasn’t gone through yet because city ordinance does not let people refeed the meter,” Wool said. “That means you have to move every hour which is not convenient.”

Another issue is the competition with the “brick and mortar” businesses already in downtown. Wool said that topic is addressed.

“The initial request to us was to have a zone in downtown — draw some kind of a boundary — that anywhere within that zone, in a legal parking place, a food truck would be allowed,” she said, adding it could be up to 150 feet from a business that sells food, though that number could be changed within the writing of the ordinance.

Wool said the ordinance would have to be approved by the planning commission before being presented to the Montgomery City Council. The earliest it could be on the council agenda is September.