Traverse City Record-Eagle

January 24, 2014

Editorial: Evolving food truck rules could burnish foodie image

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — Year one of Traverse City’s experiment with food trucks has come and gone without the most dire consequences predicted by those who worried the trucks would harm the city’s growing food industry.

That’s due at least in part to the go-slow approach taken by the city in opening public and private property to the trucks. There was plenty of opposition to letting food trucks into the downtown area, mostly from established restaurants worried the trucks, which don’t pay property taxes or the other costs associated with brick-and-mortar businesses, would siphon away business.

But the city took a long time to listen to both sides and to examine how the issue has played out elsewhere. The ordinance approved by the city commission limited the number of places the trucks could set up shop and the number of trucks. Though the trucks appeared to do substantial business last summer, it wasn’t a stampede away from established restaurants. There appeared to be a balance.

This week the trucks were given the green light to expand their reach into the very market that has made food trucks successful here and around the country - upwardly mobile 20-somethings looking for eating-out options, new menus and hours that fit their lifestyle.

The city agreed to allow food truck vendors to operate from 6 a.m. to 3 a.m. on private property in commercial areas. The change will allow vendors more time to set up in the morning to catch early commuters and to stay open late at night to snag the bar crowd.

The changes elicited little comment, but that was due at least in part to the time of year. Elizabeth Whelan is president of the Boardman Neighborhood Association which abuts the bar Little Fleet at East Front and Wellington streets. Little Fleet was home to a number of food trucks last year, and is the spot most likely to see problems from the extended hours.

Whelan reserved comment on the changes, but said time will tell. “It might be fine for the middle of January,” Whelan said. “We shall see in July.”

She’s right. But there are signs the do-it-right attitude that has directed this process so far will prevail. Whelan said Little Fleet owner Gary Jonas has attended neighborhood meetings and offered to meet with the neighbors again to discuss concerns before summer.

He has said he will work with the neighborhood and take care of problems if they arise, she said. That’s not a guarantee, but it’s a positive first step.

There’s no reason food trucks can’t become a key part of Traverse City’s continued rise as a foodie destination. Each success enhances that reputation, and that’s good for everyone.