Two hot-button issues meet in a downtown smackdown (which somehow reminds me of standing in line outside the Golden Gate Theater, c. 1971, to see Godzilla vs The Smog Monster, which was disappointing even to children), along with more important items in this week's report from the Manager.
Not to overblow this into some sort of Lexington and Concord moment, but the whole food truck saga in GSO seems like the system of self-governance working pretty well and, perhaps, a model for future grassroots activism.
Nancy Vaughan writes to fellow Council-members and City staff:
The main issue that we have with downtown food trucks is not the BID prohibition, which could be easily lifted, but the "CB" zoning designation which disallows food trucks (on both public and private property). The large majority of BID is zoned CB. As previously stated, we need to start the process to amend our Permitted Use Table to allow "Mobile Food Vendor, Motorized" in the CB zoning district. Food trucks are currently allowed, under certain conditions; "Additional Use Standards" (section 30-8-10.4T) in C-M, C-H, LI and HI.
Those Additional Use Standards are:
(1) Only one mobile food vendor is allowed per zoned lot, except for lots within the Downtown Business District, as defined in the Greensboro Code of Ordinances, Section 276-231 and following (pushcart sales)
(2) In addition to permitted zoning districts, motorized mobile food vendors may also be located to serve any active construction site.
(3) No portion of the vendor sales area may occupy any required parking spaces for the principal use of the lot.
(4) Outside of the Downtown Business District, no portion of the vendor sales area may encroach on a public sidewalk, any portion of a clearly defined pedestrian walkway between the public sidewalk and the principal use of the lot, or any portion of direct vehicular access to the lot.
(5) Mobile food vendors directly associated with not-for-profit organizations, as defined in the Greensboro Code of Ordinances, Section 13-49, or for temporary events as defined in the Greensboro Code of Ordinances, Section 26-247, and the following shall be exempt from these requirements.
I think that we may also want to amend the Additional Use Standards to allow for more than one food truck per site and we must address the issue of not occupying "any required parking spaces for the principal use of the lot" and any other issue that will impede success.
According to Mike Kirkman, "Properties with any other zoning designations do not allow mobile food vendors as a permitted use. However mobile food vendors associated with temporary events or active construction sites are allowed anywhere in the city as they are exempt from the zoning district requirements." We were able to allow the pilot program because it is a temporary event.
According to Mujeeb it will take approximately 60 days to make this text amendment due to the advertising, required public hearing and vote.
Denise, I know staff has been working on this, but when can we start the public process?
This is one of the reasons I advocated for a pilot program and have always said the pilot program and amending the ordinance are not mutually exclusive. Let's do it, but let's do it right.
He laughed when asked if all the foot traffic around his shop was helping or hurting business.
So the Spring Garden Food Truck Festival was a roaring success, and one that pleased the bricks-and-mortar merchants in the area.
It's great to see cool things drawing crowds in GSO neighborhoods, and there's no reason that these things should only happen downtown.
But downtown is set up to host big events, and actively markets itself as the place to hold them. And the downtown powers that be -- elected and otherwise -- blew this one by a mile, and not just for a sunny Sunday afternoon. They saw the national food-truck trend as a threat instead of an opportunity, catered to entrenched interests instead of encouraging fresh thinking and competition, and responded to public pressure to open the central business district with a plan only a bureaucrat could love.
So that all happened. What happens next matters more.
Can our elected officials and their string-pullers adapt? Can they recognize that a large, young-skewing demographic wants some things that the old guard didn't anticipate? Can they use the food truck issue as an excuse to tap into the fresh energy that is bubbling up all over this town, or will they ignore it?
If you can look past the fact that an iconic rocker was reduced to playing elevator music and subcontracting out the actual guitar licks and singing lyrics apparently written while watching Sesame Street on mushrooms, this really is a nice Sunday morning welcome-back-to-autumn song.
Were I a professional promoter of downtown Greensboro, I would hope that the people paying my salary do not ask me why tomorrow's food truck festival is happening somewhere other than the place I am payed to promote. I might say, hey, you were the people who told me to keep these trucks out of downtown and then left me to twist in the wind as 1,476 people signed up for this thing on Facebook, but that kind of truth-telling rarely plays well with one's bosses.Then I'd slip on a hat and shades and go to the festival and try to figure out how downtown might capture some of this energy and grassroots enthusiasm instead of working to keep it out.
Were I a downtown restaurateur or landlord, I'd join the economic developer on that surveillance mission, and try to bring back ideas that have more to do with luring people to my establishment and less with making their choices for them.
Were I a member of City Council, I'd get there early and stay late, be photographed eating all kinds of food, and tell as many people as possible that I really really like this idea and hate the red-tape-wrapped downtown trial as much as anyone. And were I Trudy Wade, people would have a reason to believe me.
Were I a food-truck operator, I'd enjoy the big day, and let everyone know where I'll be setting up from now on in a part of downtown that lies just outside the exclusion zone.
Were I anyone else in this part of North Carolina, I'd take advantage of a beautiful fall day by strapping on the feed bag and hanging out with a bunch of other folks who will not be downtown on a nice Sunday because downtown doesn't want them.
RUCO would not have helped at derelict apartment tower, says this week's report from the Manager.
Also: Bill Burckley vs kudzu, the Grimsley pool, and a press release on the food truck trial that explains exactly nothing about what criteria will be used to judge the success or failure of the two-month experiment with freedom of choice.
City Council's rejection of Dr. Wade's sensible alternative plan for food trucks was disappointing, and I don't really understand what's on trial in the two-month trial program or how it will be judged, but, hey, progress (video begins around 4:00 here).
Where were the proponents of the ban? Once again (see: noise regs) we have a lot of public opposition to a public policy, and virtually nobody speaking up in favor of it...yet the mysterious backers seem to throw some weight. Who are they, and to whom do they speak, and how?
Also: Cute kid speaker from the floor, but, seriously, do not do this.
Strong words on food trucks from the N&R's VOG editorial today:
There’s no need for a test run in a limited area...
The better test is the test of the free market. The council should open more areas of downtown — excluding locations that simply don’t have room for food trucks to park — and let the public decide which businesses do well and which don’t.
A resolution to implement a month-long food truck pilot program this October on Commerce Place in Downtown Greensboro will be on the City Council meeting agenda this coming Tuesday, September 4th at 5:30pm in the Melvin Municipal Office Building (300 W. Washington St).
Meanwhile, Eric Robert has said trucks can come to his property just south of Lee on Elm, which is outside of the downtown exclusion zone. And with a month to go before the event, 840 people say they'll attend the Spring Garden Food Truck Festival.
This movement has momentum at the local level. Maybe GSO can get it right.
Looks like the County's role in regulating food trucks is pretty small. So, on to the City.
About that City ban on trucks downtown...Maybe I've missed the answers to some elementary questions this summer, but:
What was the process behind the ban?
Who proposed it?
How was it enacted -- was there a Council vote? If so, what was the breakdown of that vote? UPDATE: The recent N&R article says "The Greensboro City Council banned most food trucks downtown last year, when it passed a series of new rules involving roadside food vendors." Anyone got a date for that meeting? /update UPDATE II: Thanks to Cecelia for providing a link to the minutes; the ordinance passed unanimously, after being continued from previous meetings, and without much input from the food truckers. /update
If not, who ordered the change?
What arguments were made, by whom, for and against it?
Justin Conrad, chair of the Guilford County Board of Health, via Facebook:
Recently, there has been a lot of conversation in the Greensboro community regarding mobile food trucks. As the Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Health, I have asked Environmental Health Director Tobin Shepherd to address the Board this Monday, August 20th to discuss this issue and how it would impact public health. Our meeting is at 6:30 at the Health Department Building located at 501 E. Green Drive in High Point. Any interested parties are encouraged to attend. We will have a period for questions and comments from the public.
In the comments beneath a previous post, Conrad raises questions about health inspections of trucks that are registered in other counties. This may be a legit issue, although one that could be addressed easliy enough by requiring Guilford County inspections for trucks doing business in Guilford County.
But Conrad, who runs his family's restaurant business, started that earlier thread by saying that food trucks licensed elsewhere represent unfair competition to local restaurants.
That, too, may need to be addressed, but Conrad's stated economic self-interest means he and the Board of Health must be very careful to avoid appearances of a conflict when they meet next week.
I don't know Flathers, but I am a fan of downtown restaurateurs and am not unsympathetic to their concerns. He makes some points that are easily knocked down (no, trucks are not just a big-city phenomenon, and yes, downtown really could use more food options) but his main thrust is this: "The truth is that downtown Greensboro lacks enough workforce, residents and tourists to successfully support both food trucks and restaurants."
A couple of questions: Is that statement accurate? And, is it the job of the City to protect one set of businesses at the expense of another?
Telling Facebook that you will go to an event in the real world is no guarantee of attendance, but still this Food Truck Festival is racking up some impressive numbers more than five weeks ahead of the first taco being served.
As small business owners, residents, and advocates for downtown, we believe food trucks operating with specific regulations would add lively new options in downtown, encourage entrepreneurship and attract young professionals.
I'm an old professional, and I too would be attracted.
Robbie Perkins says via FB that GSO is participating in the Bloomberg Mayors Challenge, described at the site as "a competition to inspire American cities to generate innovative ideas that solve major challenges and improve city life."
Perkins: "Have not defined the entry yet but we are working on several ideas."
I propose using some of our expensive solid waste to power a fleet of downtown food trucks, thus killing two birds with one stone (the birds could then be served by the food trucks, so there's a recycling component). Monetizing our garbage would fund the public portion of the downtown performing arts center, and the $5 million grand prize is used to bribe teenagers to avoid downtown and soundproof the dwellings of landlords.
Alert reader Anne Glenn sent along this pic (click to enlarge) and caption:
It's the parking lot of a Best Buy (in a shopping center with two other large, empty storefronts) in Fullerton, CA. Every Friday from 5:30-9, a group of 12-15 of SoCal's food trucks parks here. It's a great atmosphere; folks come early, bring chairs and tables and have a "tailgate" or just sit on a curb or eat and walk. Apparently this kind of temporary "pod" is becoming more popular in Southern California. I can think of a lot of parking lots in front of empty store fronts in Greensboro where I'd love to see something like this pop up. We tasted food from 5 different trucks, spent about 30 bucks and were stuffed. You could get away for less, but we tried a few pricey selections.
Durham food trucks have long enjoyed more lenient operating rules, especially compared with Chapel Hill and Raleigh. But now the Bull City's mobile vendors could be subject to stricter regulations, if a proposed amendment to a city ordinance passes.
Across the country, many cities are facing the issue of city codes and ordinances apply to food trucks, and how the permitting process should work...
...Atlanta seems to be approaching the national standard of permitting food trucks provided their vendors are fully licensed, maintain some kind of distance from nearby brick-and-mortar restaurants, and are cognizant of pedestrian traffic, bus zones, fire hydrants, and other right-of-way concerns.
The experience in other cities shows that food vendors attract foot traffic to commercial districts - which means increased sales and a more vibrant retail business overall. By offering low-cost, culturally diverse foods for people on the go, they typically complement - rather than compete - with sit-down restaurants and give people more reasons to frequent local shopping districts.