Traverse City Record-Eagle

March 19, 2013

New proposal in food truck debate

By Anne Stanton
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — A proposal for food trucks in Traverse City would lower fees and allow them to operate year-round on public land for the first time, but it's not clear if the plan will satisfy either food truck friends or foes.

The proposal will go before a Downtown Development Authority committee today at 10:30 a.m. and then to the entire DDA board on Wednesday at 8 a.m.

The proposal allows food trucks in just two public parking lots, but DDA board member Rick Korndorfer said it's a “slippery slope.”

“I don’t know if I want a carnival atmosphere in my city year-round; would you want Gibby’s French fries and elephant ears year-round?” he said. “What about a truck selling sunglasses or sandals? Where does it stop?”

Board member Leah Bagdon McCallum believes food trucks should be allowed in more public places "than just those two pockets."

“We have wonderful restaurants, but not everyone has the money or time to enjoy them," she said.

Currently food trucks can only operate on private property with the exception of summer festivals. The current fee is $100 a day. The new plan would charge vendors doing business on private property between $500 and $700 a year. Doing business on public land would cost between $1,200 to $1,600 annually.

The proposal specifies parking lots near Lay Park on South Union Street near Seventh Street and the volleyball courts along Grandview Parkway. The proposal also would permit food carts in Lay Park. The proposal would ban food trucks from all city streets.

Bryan Crough, DDA’s executive director, put the proposal together and advised the DDA board to proceed "slowly and carefully" to avoid unintended consequences. He provided a map to add or subtract food trucks in public parking lots as the DDA board wishes.

“It's as simple as (the DDA has) the parking map in front of you. Tell me what you think,” Crough said.

John Di Giacomo, a DDA board member, said he doubts there's enough business at the suggested parking lots.

"Trying to appease everybody by putting somebody in a corner to operate is the wrong way to go about it," he said.

Simon Joseph, owner of the Roaming Harvest Food food truck, said he is disappointed with the proposal, especially with nearly 800 folks signing a petition and more than 80 percent supporting food trucks in a local chamber of commerce poll.

“To disregard that and to say ‘no’ to street vending at all is kind of a stretch," he said.

He also believes proposed fees are too high.

“Chicago charges $500 for vendors in the Loop and there is no additional number for private or public,” he said.

David Denison, who owns La Cuisine Amical and who helped create the plan, said it would require the property owner to provide bathrooms, trash pick-up and ensure pedestrian safety.

“If they don’t have the infrastructure support, we know where the support will be,” he said. “They’ll come into our place and use the bathroom."

He doesn't think food trucks should be permitted to use valuable public parking spots, but he does support food trucks in Traverse City.

“The younger generation of people really likes food trucks, and that’s the group Traverse City has the hardest time holding onto,” Denison said. “We have to figure out how to do something.”