COVINGTON— A new city zoning law will let vending trucks and food carts sell in many commercial areas of Covington, but not on city streets or sidewalks.
Proponents argued the vendors, popular in such hip cities as Portland, Ore., can add a vibrancy now lacking in Covington’s commercial areas, where many storefronts are empty.
Three Covington business people argued Tuesday against the change, predicting it will harm already struggling restaurants in the area.
“I’m totally in favor of driving more traffic to Covington – but not during lunch, when we’re trying to operate a restaurant that we’ve been operating for 40 years,” said Pete Jordan, general manager of the Radisson hotel at 668 W. Fifth St., with the revolving restaurant on top.
The hotel’s ground-floor Kelly’s Public House is known for its breakfasts and lunch buffets, but like other Covington eateries is having trouble drawing customers lately.
“We have an awful lot of great restaurants in this town,” Jordan said, “and I don’t know any of them that are setting records or have set records over the last couple of years.”
The hotel’s top-story revolving “360” restaurant, once named one of Zagat’s Top 100 U.S. Romantic Restaurants, has not been open since 2007 “primarily because of a lack of people available for the lunch period,” Jordan said.
Ray Niemeyer, longtime owner of Heringer Meats in Covington, which supplies meat to many restaurants, agreed: “I’m very concerned about the existing food businesses in Covington because the economic conditions the past two years have been tougher than nails,” he said.
Many restaurant owners and their families are working 60-70 hours a week during these tough times to keep their businesses alive, Niemeyer said.
Pati Gilliece, co-owner of the Chez Nora restaurant, questioned whether the city had carefully researched the issue “and everyone is sure that food trucks will bring more good than harm to the city.”
City leaders said they did research the experiences of Portland and other places. But commissioners Sherry Carran, Shawn Masters and Steve Frank promised the city will evaluate in coming months to see whether it has a negative impact.
“If we don’t give it a try, we’ll never know,” Carran said as commissioners voted 5-0 for the change.
“Looking at this from an economic-development (standpoint), we need more activity” on the streets, said Mayor Chuck Scheper. “We need more people observing the fact that we’ve got availability in our city and it’s safe to be here.”
After commissioners were surprised to learn another proposed change to allow secondhand stores and vintage clothing stores in commercial zones also would let shops sell used appliances, they voted 5-0 to table it.
Commissioners also approved other zoning changes aimed at making Covington more funky and friendly to businesses. Among the changes were provisions that allow micro-distilleries in some areas; allow community gardens in all residential zones; and allow fences to be installed on some vacant properties.
Another change approved Tuesday lets the city zoning administrator approve minor deviations from zoning laws so businesses and residents can avoid the expense and time of public meetings.