Raymond Armstrong knows no matter where you live, passing a mobile food truck ordinance takes patience, a willingness to negotiate and some great timing.
The Monroe, La., councilman proposed a mobile food truck ordinance at the beginning of the year and it was met with strong opposition from the public and restaurant owners who feared competition.
But ask Armstrong to pinpoint what it was that swayed the council to go from opposing it to passing the ordinance in less than 10 months, and he’ll say timing is everything.
“I think it was more of an evolution of time,” Armstrong said. “There was only one person who spoke against it at our most recent vote and there were several people who spoke for it the first time and this time didn’t say anything.”
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A group of Horry County government officials, residents and business owners met for nearly a year to concoct what they thought was the best ordinance to introduce mobile food trucks to the Horry County community only to see it shot down by a 9-3 vote by the Horry County Council last month.
The county’s infrastructure and regulation committee is slated to talk about the ordinance at its next meeting Nov. 24.
There are more than 1,800 restaurants weaved through a 60-mile stretch along the Grand Strand. In 2010, Horry County adopted an ordinance that allows for smaller push carts, like hot dog stands. It also allows for bigger mobile food trucks during special events.
County planning officials and a Mobile Food Truck Vending ad hoc committee have been working since late last year to hash out details of a pilot program that would have opened the area to up to 50 mobile food vendors.
Some of the major changes from the current ordinance, outside of allowing trucks and trailers, included opening mobile vending to areas zoned for office, professional and industrial businesses as well as commercial. Other changes included moving mobile vendors 200 feet away from permanent restaurants, allowing them to serve food from 6 a.m. to 3 a.m. instead of 11 p.m., and decreasing the cost of the permit to $150.
Conway passed a mobile food vending ordinance in 2011, and Bill Graham, city administrator, said the city worked to make sure the mobile food vendors, which reached as many as 10 in recent years, didn’t interfere with existing restaurants.
“We haven’t had any problems with it at all,” Graham said.
Conway restricts its mobile vending units from within 300 feet of any school, religious institution or cemetery, and can only spend 30 minutes at one spot.
Getting the ordinance passed isn’t the only thing counties must keep in mind. If the ordinance passes, the county needs to be prepared with what is acceptable under the ordinance, and the county that some in North Carolina turn to as an example is Wake County.
Rebecca Robbins, environmental health specialist with Wake County, N.C., said the county has had mobile food units for years and thinks being prepared if the council approves the ordinance is important.
“Anyone who is wanting to start a food truck, we encourage people to come in for an office consultation with me and that’s free of charge,” Robbins said. “We just sit down and I like them to bring in an idea of what their menu might be and maybe some thoughts of what they want to build.”
Robbins shows applicants pictures of units that have been permitted and those that have been denied.
“When they leave, they have a little bit better understanding of what is to be expected,” Robbins said. “This investment can be a lot. I’ve seen people spend a large amount of money.”
Armstrong said the Monroe La., City Council drafted locations where the mobile trucks could be, such as parks, private places, along streets, on university grounds with permission and on school property with permission.
Armstrong said he believes the function of government is to create infrastructure and to create safe conditions for people to carry on business.
“The role of government is not to limit or restrict competition,” Armstrong said. “If somebody wanted to eliminate competition through regulation, that is illegal.
“America was not built by regulation. America was built by the enterprising nature of the private sector that is willing to take a risk, which makes this country great.”