Phoenix, AZ: Food-Trruck Operators Seek Fewer Curbs on Parking

Kara Burns picks up her Latin American fare from Joe Alarcon at Aji Mobile Foods in Phoenix. photos by Michael Schennum/The Republic

By Luci Scott  |  AZ Central

Kara Burns picks up her Latin American fare from Joe Alarcon at Aji Mobile Foods in Phoenix. photos by Michael Schennum/The Republic
Kara Burns picks up her Latin American fare from Joe Alarcon at Aji Mobile Foods in Phoenix.
photos by Michael Schennum/The Republic

Henry Uhrik sat at a picnic table, nibbling on a coconut Italian ice he bought from a food truck parked at downtown’s Phoenix Public Market.

“I’m here every Wednesday,” he said. “I volunteer at the Phoenix Art Museum, and I drive down here between shifts.”

Uhrik, a senior at the Arizona School for the Arts, buys from all of the trucks that set up at Central Avenue and Pierce Street.

Uhrik may find options in new locations if food-truck proponents can work out some flexibility with the city. Discussions are under way to allow the trucks to park in vacant lots until developers build on the land.

The food-truck industry in metro Phoenix has captured the attention of Mayor Greg Stanton, who said, “They’re a lot of fun and very creative. They add vibrancy and zest to the community. … I enjoy their food.”

He said he wants to create more opportunities for food trucks throughout the city.

“We’re looking at a variety of ways we can support food trucks and the food-truck culture,” he said.

Stanton said he wants to strike a balance, taking advantage of the fun and vibrancy spawned by the food-truck culture while supporting brick-and-mortar businesses.

Brad Moore is chairman of the Phoenix Street Food Coalition, a trade organization whose website lists 48 members, a list that is growing.

Moore is working with the Mayor’s Sustainability Advisory Committee to boost activity in the Roosevelt area on the increasingly popular Food Truck Friday, which runs from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Phoenix Public Market. Trucks also show up at the farmers market on Wednesday evening from 4 to 8 p.m. and Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon.

Food trucks have evolved from the wagons of decades past that pulled up at lunch time outside factories and other work sites, offering a hot dog and a bag of potato chips with a soft drink. They now offer fine cuisine, attracting a diverse clientele of foodies, office workers and others who celebrate the proliferation of the trucks.

Moore is among those trying to create a permanent process to allow food trucks to use vacant land on a temporary basis.

“There’s a lot of vacant land throughout metro Phoenix,” he said. “I hope it becomes a template other cities could potentially adopt. … I’m hopeful Tempe or Scottsdale or other municipalities might adopt it down the road.”

Mobile vending is allowed in the most intensive commercial zoning districts and at farmers markets.

The proposal for the change is not citywide but would be focused on downtown, said Alan Stephenson, acting director of planning and development in Phoenix.

“It is about trying to provide some vitality to some of these vacant lots in and around downtown, get them a type of interim use,” he said.

He is not sure what the change would be, but it would involve a type of permit to allow stand-alone uses, perhaps a temporary use permit, Stephenson said.

Greg Esser, vice president of the board of Roosevelt Row Community Development Corp., said his group has been talking with city officials for six months.

Talks include the Phoenix Street Food Coalition and city departments. The group is thinking of pilot projects, and spots near light-rail stations and other mass-transit areas are among those being considered for food trucks.

“We’re not targeting residential areas,” Esser said. “We’re looking at pre-existing mixed-use conditions.”

Mobile businesses are gaining more options. Scottsdale has adopted an ordinance allowing food trucks to park in the city, with time and place regulations.

“We found they’re a very popular addition to the downtown entertainment mix,” city spokesman Mike Phillips.

Food-truck advocates are focusing more on obtaining the use of vacant lots than tackling the mishmash of rules and regulations the truck owners have to deal with among the various cities.

“Every city operates very differently when comes to mobile vending and food trucks,” said Moore of the Phoenix Street Food Coalition. “Every city has its own ordinances and limitations on types property and different types of zoning.”

And the tax licenses from each city, he said, “are one more layer that, as a food truck (operator), you’re constantly having to learn how to navigate.”

What would be ideal to simplify life for the truck owners, Moore said, would be a template of rules and regulations that extended countywide. It’s not expected any time soon, but an ideal solution, he said, would be a model code that individual cities could adopt, assuming it’s appropriate for them.

“What works in downtown Chandler and downtown Phoenix may not work in residential areas of north Scottsdale or parts of Glendale,” Esser said.

Those discussing the idea of a model code are looking into what’s done in other cities, including Portland, Ore., and Austin.

The one countywide regulation, overseen by Maricopa County, is the health permits focused on food safety, including handling, preparation and serving.

Moore, who has owned Short Leash Hotdogs for three years, parks his truck in Scottsdale, Tempe and Phoenix.

“I move around quite a bit,” he said. He posts his schedule on his website and Facebook page.