Chapel Hill Council Sets Forum Monday on Food Trucks

By Gregory Childress |

CHAPEL HILL — The Town Council has scheduled a public forum to give citizens a chance to weigh in on a discussion that could make it easier for food trucks to do business in Chapel Hill.

The Town Council will receive public comment during its businesses meeting Monday, after which it could propose rule changes, call a public hearing and direct staff to draft regulations governing food trucks.

The council began to consider relaxing rules for food trucks in September after receiving a petition from Lex Alexander, owner of 3 CUPS, a retailer that sells wine, coffee and tea.

Alexander said the town should allow the trucks to operate in Chapel Hill because they promote economic development, are cutting edge and inclusionary.

“I travel a lot in my job and all the hot food cities in the U.S. have embraced this new retail food format,” Alexander said in his petition. “It is time to make food trucks a welcome part of the food landscape in Chapel Hill, because after all Chapel Hill has always been an innovator and a progressive food town.”

In e-mail messages to the town, residents appear to be generally in favor of relaxing the rules.

“I’m not sure I can be at the meeting about food trucks on Feb. 28, but like food trucks,” Donald W. McCormick, III wrote. “There are taco trucks that stop regularly in Carrboro and don’t seem to cause any problem.”

But Sandra Marlow wrote that she is concerned about the health and safety of food trucks, and wondered if food trucks are treated like restaurants when it comes to health inspections.

“I hope they are,” Marlow wrote. “Quite concerned about food poisoning, and infection from poor sanitation.”

The town’s Land Use Management Ordinance (LUMO) doesn’t address mobile food sales on private property. A vendor must ask the Planning Board and/or council for a change in use to establish a mobile food business on a site. The vendor must also show how other zoning requirements are being met.

The Town Code, however, allows for some outdoor sales of food on public sidewalks and under certain conditions. Most commonly the activity occurs as outdoor dinning on sidewalks in the downtown district and in Southern Village’s business core.

And food trucks are now permitted in Chapel Hill’s downtown as part of a town-sponsored event such as Festifall.

In nearby Carrboro and Durham, food trucks are allowed to operate in their business districts.

Carrboro permits, for example, food trucks to operate “where an existing nonresidential use operates in a permanent building.”

Also, Carrboro requires food trucks to have signs permanently attached to the motor vehicle, plumbing and electrical connections to comply with the State building Code and, if located in a parking lot, situated in a manner so that parking spaces can continued to be used for the primary business on the lot during business hours and without interfering with the movement of vehicles.

Carrboro reserves the right to revoke a vendor’s permit if it’s determined that their operations are “causing problems with parking, traffic congestion, or litter, or otherwise compromising public health or safety.”

Meanwhile, in Durham, mobile food vendors and ice cream vendors are permitted in the downtown zoning districts and at approved construction sites.

Food truck vendors operating outside downtown are required to get a temporary use permit that is issued by the town’s Inspections Department.

Raleigh and Hillsborough are also considering regulations to permit food trucks.

In its report, the town’s staff said some of the conditions and standard to consider during the discussion include:

  • Limiting the activity to the town center and commercial zoning districts.
  • Permitting chairs, tables, and related barriers which could be limited by requiring removal by midnight and in inclement weather.
  • Requiring compliance with ordinances pertaining to noise, health, fire protection, litter, business licensing, zoning, signs, traffic safety, and sales area cleanliness.
  • Requiring standards to address the safe and orderly flow of pedestrian and vehicular traffic.
  • Restricting sales:
  • Within 15 feet of a fire hydrant, driveway, alley used by vehicles, or of a parking space for handicapped people.
  • Which damage or endanger any tree or shrub; within the area of a tree grate, fence or other protective device; or in the area of the roots of a tree or shrub if such area is unpaved, and/or within ten feet of the base of the tree or within three feet of the base of the shrub.
  • In intersections and bus stop areas.