Springfield, MO: New Law Means Expanded Territory for Food Trucks

Curtis Green, left, and Zac Lawson try That Lebanese Place for the first time on Tuesday. Valerie Mosley/News-Leader
Curtis Green, left, and Zac Lawson try That Lebanese Place for the first time on Tuesday. Valerie Mosley/News-Leader

Downtown area opened up to mobile vendors

There could be more options for late-night eats downtown in coming months, as a new law expands the zones of the city where mobile food truck vendors can operate.

On Monday, City Council unanimously approved an ordinance allowing mobile food vendors to operate in sites that are zoned for industrial, manufacturing and government or institutional purposes, as well as Center City and Commercial Street. The mayor signed the bill into effect on Tuesday.

Previous zoning ordinances restricted vendors to areas zoned for general retail or commercial uses.

Monday’s City Council comes after an Aug. 9 vote by the Springfield Planning and Zoning Commission favoring a version of the ordinance restricting the vendors from a section of Center City. That recommendation, approved 4-3, came after the same commission earlier expressed support for a version without restrictions.

The portion of the ordinance allowing vendors downtown was the most controversial. The issue was originally tabled after a public hearing in May. Councilman Tom Bieker suggested an alternate version prohibiting mobile vendors downtown, citing concerns that temporary vendors would have an advantage over permanent businesses that must meet heightened aesthetic standards.

However, after receiving more feedback, Bieker pulled his alternate bill in advance of Monday’s council meeting.

The Urban Districts Alliance originally voiced concerns regarding unfair competition between temporary vendors and bricks-and-mortar businesses, but Executive Director Rusty Worley said restrictions limiting food trucks to private property were satisfactory.

The Downtown Community Improvement District, which is associated with the UDA, later went on to voice its support of the measure.

“The more it was looked into, it was a pretty small number of sites,” Worley said. “Our original concerns were addressed.”

Charlotte Turnbull was one of several area food truck owners to praise the decision on Tuesday.

“That’s great,” said Turnbull, the owner of The Traveling Taco. “I’m thrilled.”

Turnbull said she already had an informal agreement with a downtown property owner willing to let her set up on weekend evenings from about 9 p.m. until after downtown bars close.

“I’ll call him today,” she said.

For Turnbull, a move downtown it would actually be a return to the area where she first set up. For three days in Sept. 2010, The Traveling Taco was originally set up at the intersection of Elm and Kimbrough, before a health inspector suggested the business they check current zoning requirements.

“For the three days we were there, it was bank,” she said.

Larry Edgar, who owns the property at the intersection where Turnbull set up, said he’s had other vendors express interest in setting up there and hopes to have them on the property in the future. However, he noted that the application process is still complicated.

“I’m just glad to have the opportunity,” Edgar said. “Hopefully I can help people make money.”

Eli Ghanem, owner of That Lebanese Place, a food truck at the corner of Chestnut and Glenstone, said he supported the decision, although he wasn’t planning on moving.

“We personally are happy with our location as is,” he said, citing his landlord and the area’s high traffic.

Johnathon Allen, co-owner of the Aviary Cafe and Creperie, said he was “absolutely stoked” with the vote. The creperie is located on Walnut Street downtown, but also has a 28-foot food truck that Allen hopes to operate in the stretch between Chestnut Expressway and Commercial Street, as well as near Missouri State University.

“I’ve been hiring people for the last month in anticipation of this vote,” he said.

Allen said he was one of the early supporters of the expanded area of operation, but noted that he supported the alternate bill barring food trucks from downtown, largely for aesthetic reasons.

However, he said that he was fine with letting the free market decide which food trucks will be successful downtown, and said that any businesses that suffer do so only “because they’re not doing a good job.”

But not all downtown business owners viewed the expansion as a positive development. Matt Turbov, owner of the Chicago Cheesesteak Company on Walnut Street, said he was “outraged” at the decision and believed it will have a negative impact on his business.

“Might as well sell this business and open it on the street,” said Turbov, who was unaware the issue was up for vote before Tuesday. “I pay rent.”

Turnbull said the council’s decision allowed the city to play catch up to other cities with active downtown food truck scenes.

“You compare us to the big cities, they’re all down there.”