Savannah, GA: Savannah may pass food truck ordinance in June

FILE - Ryan Giannoni poses for a portrait in front of a food truck that was featured at the 2015 Doggie Carnival in Savannah.

By Eric Curl  |  Savannah Now

FILE - Ryan Giannoni poses for a portrait in front of a food truck  that was featured at the 2015 Doggie Carnival in Savannah.
FILE – Ryan Giannoni poses for a portrait in front of a food truck
that was featured at the 2015 Doggie Carnival in Savannah.

Savannah foodies’ feasts could soon be served out of the cramped confines of a kitchen on wheels.

The Savannah City Council is expected to pass an ordinance allowing food trucks to operate in the city, after raising few concerns about the proposed regulations during a workshop on Thursday.

The council is scheduled to have readings on the ordinance in June.

The city reported that 96 percent of 663 respondents to an online survey are in favor of such “mobile food units,” as the city ordinance labels them. Staffers, in conjunction with residents and business owners, have been developing the ordinance as a way to satisfy that demand while addressing health and safety concerns — and ensuring the food trucks do not hurt existing “brick and mortar” businesses, said Susan Broker, Citizen Office director.

They will not likely be able to determine whether the ordinance is too restrictive or not restrictive enough until after it goes into effect, Broker said.

“This is our best guess on this, and we’ve based it on what other communities are doing,” she said.

The ordinance establishes a permitting process and rules for where and how food trucks would operate. The trucks would be prohibited to operate on public property except for special events and in specially designated locations.

Up to two trucks would be permitted to operate north of Ellis Square from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. Thursday to Sunday, and six could operate during same hours at the freight zone at St. Julian and Whitaker streets. In Daffin Park, three trucks would be able to feed hungry patrons from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.

The trucks would otherwise be restricted to private property in commercial, mixed-use, industrial and institutional zones and have to be located at least 200 feet from an existing restaurant.

Food truck owners who violate the ordinance would be fined $500 for a first offense, $750 for a second and $1,000 for a third violation within 12 months.

Mike Vaquer, who represents a Savannah restaurant owners group, said his clients support the proposed ordinance, aside from a clause staff had included in the 200-foot restriction that would only prohibit food trucks from selling “similar” products near restaurants. They didn’t want to limit the prohibition to just similar food, Vaquer said.

“If that phrase can be deleted we are in favor of moving forward with that,” he said.

Alderman Carol Bell and other council members also supported Vaquer’s request that qualifier be taken out.

In addition, food truck representatives also voiced support for the ordinance.

Celeste Germain, representing the Georgia Peach Food Truck Association, and Ryan Giannoni, president of the Savannah Food Truck Association, both said their were some minor kinks that may eventually have to be worked out, but that they were ready for the regulations to be adopted.

They said the 200-foot restriction was not a problem.

“I’ve had a brick and mortar business, and I wouldn’t want a food truck right outside the door,” Giannoni said.

Some aldermen had concerns about the truck limit in downtown areas leading to issues with operators fighting for the prime spots, while others also raised concerns about churches being able to rent out their parking lots to food truck operators. Still, the council was generally supportive of the proposal.

Mayor Eddie DeLoach directed staff to address the council’s concerns by the next meeting so they could have an ordinance presented to them for adoption by the last meeting in June.

“I think we’ve got to understand that when we pass this there will be a certain amount of arguments,” DeLoach said. “It’s like marriage … We’ll work through it.”

Also Thursday, the council:

•Held a first reading to issue $8 million in bonds to fund streetscaping improvements along Broughton Street.

• Approved the use of a $183,498 federal grant to pay for new trees along Broughton from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to Lincoln Street.

• Postponed until next month consideration of an agreement that would replace the Savannah Film Office with an area-wide film office run by the Savannah Economic Development Authority.

• Approved the sale of the former cultural arts center site at Hall and Montgomery streets for $980,000 to Harley Krinsky and Ian Smith for development of a multi-story mixed-use project that includes 73 residential units and first-floor retail space.