Chapel Hill to Establish Food Truck Regulations

BY KATELYN FERRAL | NewsObserver.com

Food trucks may soon have a place in Chapel Hill.

The food trucks, or mobile food units, have been kicked out of the town in the past, but the Town Council asked Monday night for rules to regulate how they can sell their food alongside traditional restaurants.

The rules are a response to a petition by Lex Alexander, owner of 3Cups cafe off of Elliott Road in Chapel Hill. Alexander asked the town to allow food trucks, which he says would diversify the town’s food scene and boost the local economy.

The town does not specifically prohibit the trucks, but current town rules make them virtually impossibly to operate.

Mobile food units fall under multiple authorities in the town. The Town Code regulates the sales of outdoor food. The Parks and Recreation Department regulates food trucks if they’re for a special event. The Land Use Management Ordinance regulates where they can park and requires a fence or screen in front of the truck.

“We fully acknowledge the guidelines are not in place and that food trucks are regulated by multiple entities, which complicates compliance,” said Catherine Lazorko, the town’s public information officer said in March.

In a public hearing earlier this year, some restaurant owners downtown said food trucks would take away their business. Food truck owners say they enliven the community and eventually hope to move into brick and mortar locations.

The new rules could regulate where and when food trucks could park, but they couldn’t restrict the location of food truck commissaries where the trucks prepare their food, they could not guarantee a tax revenue stream for Chapel Hill or limit the number of food trucks operating in the town, said town planner Kendal Brown.

Council Member Laurin Easthom said she is sensitive to restaurant owners concerns, but said that different people will want to eat from the trucks than will want to have a sit-down meal.

“I think they are interesting,” she said. “I think they would add to the downtown and not detract from it.”

Town staff will return with food trucks regulations for the council’s consideration in September.