TRAVERSE CITY — City commissioners’ decision to extend food truck hours until 3 a.m. on private commercial property doesn’t create a concern for Elizabeth Whelan in the middle of January.
Whelan is president of the Boardman Neighborhood Association which abuts the bar Little Fleet on the corner of East Front and Wellington streets. The bar encourages food trucks to use its parking lot and several squeezed in during the summer but had to shut down at 11 p.m. Commissioners voted Monday to eliminate the previous curfew to allow mobile food vendors to capture the late-night bar crowd.
“It might be fine for the middle of January,” Whelan said. “We shall see in July.”
Whelan chose not to speak at the city commission meeting even though some of her neighbors had expressed concerns. She said Little Fleet owner Gary Jonas has come to their meetings and has offered to meet with the neighbors again to discuss their concerns in advance of the summer season.
“Gary has tried to work with the neighborhood and he said if we have problems he will take care of them,” Whelan said.
Several city commissioners said after the meeting they will be watching closely how this works out, especially at Little Fleet. The ordinance change expands food truck hours for any private property in a commercial area but the Little Fleet site has the most intensive use and sits next to a neighborhood.
“I have concerns, and I’m interested to see how it works,” said commissioner Barbara Budros. “They are going to have to watch that they are not offending the neighbors. They are going to have to be careful everywhere.”
Commissioner Jim Carruthers introduced the hours expansion, calling it a “start.” Carruthers has said previously that vendors would also like hours extended for public spaces where they are allowed.
Mayor Michael Estes said he would oppose any expansion of hours on public property.
“We’ve always said that you can pretty much do what you want on private property as long as you are within the basic guidelines set by the city,” Estes said. “Public property is a different issue. It’s not our job to put people in business who don’t pay property taxes.”
City officials spent months wrestling with the contentious question of allowing food trucks downtown. It was a divisive issue for some as foodies and business owners debated the question prior to the adoption of more lenient rules for food trucks in May 2013. But the latest tweak by the commission to extend the hours raised hardly a peep of objection from downtown business owners.
Rob Bacigalupi, DDA executive director, said he surveyed downtown business owners about how food trucks worked for the summer and if they had any objections to the extended hours.
“Basically their input was everything was working fine and anything owners allowed on private property was fine with them,” Bacigalupi said.
But if it comes to extending hours on public land, Bacigalupi said he wouldn’t want to guess what that reaction might be.