Raleigh Delays Vote on Food Trucks

Mike Stenke opened his own pizza place on wheels. Now, he is among a group of food truck operators who are lobbying to operate in downtown Raleigh.
By Matt Garfield | NewObserver.com
Mike Stenke opened his own pizza place on wheels. Now, he is among a group of food truck operators who are lobbying to operate in downtown Raleigh.

RALEIGH — Food truck operators came to City Hall this afternoon expecting to celebrate. Instead, they were left with the sour taste of bureaucracy.

City Council members delayed a vote that would allow food trucks to do business in Raleigh, saying they need more time to review the policy. After nearly a year of discussion, the decision will wait at least two more weeks.

“We’re a long way from where we thought we might’ve been,” said Councilman John Odom.

For Klausie’s Pizza owner Mike Stenke, who wore an apron specked with flour and tomato sauce, the delay brought more frustration.

“It’s a debate about the established versus something that’s different,” Stenke said. “There are a lot of dreams out there waiting to be realized. Why not let them?”

Council members raised several questions — and made some suggestions that could actually work out in favor of food truck operators.

The guidelines should be crafted to allow for food truck rodeos, which are gatherings of multiple trucks, said Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin, who has shepherded the policy through the city’s Law & Public Safety Committee.

Under the current version, no more than one food truck is allowed per half-acre, preventing the kinds of meet-ups that have become popular at Big Boss Brewery and in the Boylan Heights neighborhood.

With no policy in place, Raleigh officials have taken a lenient approach to enforcement for such gatherings.

Food truck advocates have faced resistance from restaurant owners who point out they pay high-dollar rent and property taxes – and shouldn’t have to compete with low-overhead operations parked outside.

In April, Mayor Charles Meeker asked the two sides to get together and work things out.

A compromise would require food trucks to park at least 100 feet from the main entrance or outdoor dining area of any restaurant and 50 feet from any food vending cart, such as a hot dog stand.

“We’ve been patient for a year,” said Lucas Kinnin, who hopes to launch Local Motive, a brunch food truck. “We expected a long, hard fight. Now it’s just getting a tad ridiculous.”

Some of the provisions are too vague, said Councilman Thomas Crowder. More specifics are needed to keep food trucks from operating late at night in neighborhoods, he said.

“I have quite a few concerns about this, to be honest,” Crowder said.

Baldwin said her committee will work quickly to resolve concerns. She hopes to have the policy ready for a vote at the Aug. 2 City Council meeting.