By Garret Ellison | Michigan Live
TRAVERSE CITY, MI — When nobody is completely happy, that means you have a good compromise.
That’s how food truck owner Simon Joseph is looking at the recent 5-2 decision by Traverse City commissioners to allow the mobile kitchens to set up in the northern Michigan city’s downtown area starting Thursday, May 16.
“I think it’s the right step and a good direction for Traverse City,” said Joseph, owner of the Roaming Harvest Food Truck and an outspoken advocate during the past year for eased restrictions and lower fees for mobile food vendors in town.
Despite some opposition by downtown restaurant owners, commissioners at their regular meeting on Monday, May 6 agreed to allow food trucks to operate on city property in select areas following a year of study and debate over the issue.
The new “trial basis” ordinance allows up to two mobile food vendors to operate on city property from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m. in four different city parking lots.
Areas given the green light for food trucks include city lots near the volleyball courts on West Bay, near the Union Street dam, the downtown post office and the site of the farmer’s market — although not while the market is operating on Saturday mornings.
Other areas were approved for food trucks near the Northwestern Michigan College and Traverse City Central High school campuses, the Grand Traverse County Civic Center, Munson Medical Center and city parks outside of the downtown district.
Until now, food trucks have been restricted to private property and were charged up to $100 per day to operate in some cases.
Vendors will now pay about $1,225 per year — $725 for an annual permit to park on private property, and $500 to park on public property.
While that’s “substantially higher” than some cities, Joseph told MLive it “does mitigate the argument that we’re using public land for nothing.”
Not everyone was thrilled at the compromise.
”All I’ve been fighting for is my employees because it’s just not that lucrative of a business,” Nick McAllister, owner of the House of Doggs on Union Street told the Traverse City Record Eagle. “It’s a lot of rent and taxes and everything just to be in these prime locations downtown.”
McAllister’s business is located next to several bars and caters to a late night crowd. Joseph said his only real bone of contention with the city’s decision was that “the hours are a bit arbitrary.”
He’d like to be able to score some of that late night business, he said, but could only do so until 11 p.m.
Joseph’s food truck will soon have some company in northern Michigan. Five new food trucks are expected to operate at a new downtown bar that’s opening on East Front Street, according to The Ticker news site.
New trucks include The Dragon Wagon, EZ Cheesy, Pigs Eatin’ Ribs and Anchor Station, as well as a second vehicle for Joseph called Little Yella.
While some readers have suggested that cities the size of Grand Rapids cannot support more than one or two food trucks following news that The Silver Spork owner Molly Clauhs was parking her vehicle for good, Joseph believes Traverse City (and Grand Rapids) could support more vehicles — at least during the summer months.
“I think in the middle of winter there’s certainly limitations,” he said. “It’s all about what the market will bear out. We’re going to find that out. I think Traverse City did a good job balancing the public and private element and opening up the market.”
Commissioners plan to review the ordinance in October.