Clear path sought for food trucks

NLR council looks to simplify policy for mobile vendors

Less than a year after setting regulations for mobile food vendors, the North Little Rock City Council is about to consider loosening those rules to make it easier for mobile food trucks to operate in the city.

The amendment seeks to "clarify and simplify" lengthy regulations that became difficult for mobile food vendors to meet, City Attorney Jason Carter said.

The City Council will introduce the changes at its 6 p.m. meeting today but may decide to postpone a vote until its next meeting to allow for a future public hearing, Carter said.

"We want to alleviate some of the burdens that we consider to be unnecessary to impose on people," Carter said. "Basically, we just want to make it easier for them to operate."

The proposal deletes 73 lines from the six-page ordinance approved by the City Council on July 14, while adding 12 lines to simplify some rules. One rule that will stay, according to the legislation, limits food trucks to special events only.

Donna Hardcastle, executive director of the Argenta Downtown Council and the Argenta Arts Foundation, said the current rules make the city appear "unfriendly" toward mobile food vendors.

Because the Downtown Council and the Arts Foundation both sponsor and manage special events downtown, Hardcastle has worked with Mayor Joe Smith to simplify the process. Smith is sponsoring the legislation change.

"I think the whole process was real cumbersome, with way too many details for them to meet that are not required when they set up in other cities," Hardcastle said. "We wanted to have people in the food truck business not to think that we're unfriendly to them, and that's the impression they have right now. We want to get past that."

The big change within the new proposal, Carter said, is taking away steps in the registration process for food truck operators. Currently, mobile food vendors have to register for each event, and their permits are only good for a maximum of three consecutive days and for only one truck.

The proposed changes include an annual registration that would require a valid business license and city Advertising and Promotion license, as well as a current health inspection and a photo identification of the applicant or operator.

"This is to make it easier to register and to simplify the process," Carter said of the proposal. "That's the guts of it."

Food truck operation isn't meant to compete with local restaurants, Hardcastle said. Organizers of downtown events look first to local restaurants as food providers, but some can't participate, and they aren't able to handle the biggest crowds, she said.

"When we have a big event like the craft beer festival, we can't have enough food," she said of wanting food trucks to "take up the slack" when needed. "It's just being able to have that option."

Metro on 04/13/2015

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