Twin Falls, ID: Food Trucks Ordinance Causes Twin Falls City Council Headache

DREW NASH • TIMES-NEWS Owner of Big Fatty's Bar-B-Que Justin Abramowski stands in front of his mobile business Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014, in Twin Falls.

By BRIAN SMITH  |  Magic Valley

DREW NASH • TIMES-NEWS Owner of Big Fatty's Bar-B-Que Justin Abramowski stands in front of his mobile business Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014, in Twin Falls.
DREW NASH • TIMES-NEWS Owner of Big Fatty’s Bar-B-Que Justin Abramowski stands in front of his mobile business Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014, in Twin Falls.

TWIN FALLS • Justin Abramowski is in the barbecue business.

While not his full-time job, Abramowski keeps busy operating Big Fatty’s BBQ, a food truck he sets up at local events.

He’d like to drive around town three or four nights a week selling his eats, but Abramowski is one of many people who can’t get a city permit to do so. Monday night, he sat in the back of Twin Falls City Council chambers, patiently listening to council members craft an ordinance that would let him expand his business.

“I commend the council for not passing what they had last night,” he said Tuesday. “I really think that thing needed a lot of fine tuning.”

Current rules don’t specify how the vendors should dispose of grease, and the city has had to repair clogged pipes and drains where a food truck dumped grease.

In August, the city stopped issuing permits to food trucks that would remain parked in one area.

The city’s mobile food permit had been designed for more traditional vendors on public property, such as ice cream trucks that drive around town. That code did not allow them to set up and operate on private property.

Food trucks are regulated the same as restaurants under the Idaho Food Code, meaning they must have proper hand-washing stations and sanitation and must monitor temperatures of hot and cold foods.

The draft ordinance separates those that are truly mobile — going to customers — from those that drive to a location, set up and wait for customers, Community Development Director Mitch Humble said.

Councilman Shawn Barigar said the city needs a code to accommodate food truck operators because he expects more of them to move in.

“One of my concerns is that we need to move on this,” Mayor Don Hall said. “I think we have people that are still waiting, people who have been waiting for months.”

City staff researched how other cities handle food trucks, Humble said.

Council members questioned whether the trucks need to be associated with an existing business, whether they should have to move at the end of the day and whether they need to be on a developed property. They also discussed whether the city should inspect the trucks’ electrical connections, how long permitting should take and how late in the evening the trucks could serve, among other details.

The council tweaked the ordinance but has not approved it. The issue will be revisited at next Monday’s meeting.

One of the biggest hangups was whether to require the trucks to be an “accessory use” to an existing business. Then they could only set up in the parking lot of a developed business near restrooms and other facilities.

Humble said he thinks it’s important that customers and employees have access to toilets and sinks.

Councilwoman Rebecca Mills Sojka disagreed. Food trucks have a “to-go” nature, and customers likely would be on their way to home or work.

The council also discussed whether the trucks should be limited to operating on developed private property instead of an empty lot.

Barigar said that’s the point of a food truck — to make use of vacant property.

“I guess the spirit of the mobile truck is just that,” he said. “It is sort of to roll into the unoccupied lot, sell lunch and roll out.”

Vice Mayor Suzanne Hawkins said she prefers stricter guidelines.

“I don’t think it is fair to those people (established restaurants) who are investing in our community to have stricter rules than people who are pulling their truck into town and getting the same advantages as those people without paying for those services,” Hawkins said.

Councilman Greg Lanting said he was concerned about the mess food truck traffic might cause.

“With our storm water requirement coming up to keep dirt off the roads and all these different things, that’s just going to be one more item that we would be out of compliance with if we allow people to park in a vacant lot, pull out and run down the road dragging mud everywhere,” he said.

Councilman Jim Munn said some details required in the draft ordinance were “bureaucratically insane.”

If the driver “has the permission of the private property owner, let’s get off his back, man,” Munn said.

Mills Sojka said she wants to expedite the permitting process. “One of the biggest complaints that I get is how much time it takes to get (the permits) back,” she said.

City staff said they likely could approve a permit in 10 business days.

Councilman Chris Talkington asked: “What happens to all the other applications that are slowed down because we are speeding up for one specific purpose? How fair is that?”

The council also discussed whether to require the trucks to move each night. Humble said that requirement would keep them from becoming permanent fixtures. If a vendor wants to stay many nights in a row, they’d need to go through the permit process for restaurants.

That requirement is onerous, said Rosalee Dingwall, who owns a lot she hopes to rent to a prospective food truck owner.

“How is this guy going to run his business and move it every single night? You are not going to have any of these food trucks doing that,” Dingwall told the council. “They are not going to run around town. That’s impossible. You are going to cut them all out.”

Lanting argued, “Someone who comes in and sets up a restaurant and because they are in a truck they get to skip all the restaurant rules, that doesn’t work for me.”

“It’s all in the name,” said Barigar. “It is a mobile food truck. And if it is never mobile, then it is not a food truck. If it is parked there forever, it needs to be a restaurant.”

Abramowski said he agreed with many decisions the council made and would rather move his truck nightly than have it broken into.

“Mobile to me is mobile,” he said. “If I wanted to stay in one place, I would get into the restaurant business.”