Could Charlotte be the next North Carolina city to reform needlessly restrictive food truck laws? If a recent forum held by liberal activist group Action NC and today’s Charlotte Observer editorial are any indication, the Queen City may be joining the nationwide push to give more freedom to mobile food vendors. Today’s editorial hits several good points:
In each of those cities, along with others nationwide, hundreds of food trucks offer consumers wonderfully inventive food, while giving entrepreneurs a way to start a business with a minimum of overhead. In Charlotte, there’s only a sprinkling of choices, thanks in part to a restrictive 2008 ordinance that put dozens of trucks out of business and discouraged others from putting wheels to pavement here.
That ordinance primarily punished taco trucks, which parked near residential neighborhoods in Charlotte. Residents complained about noise, trash, crime and loitering, but instead of working to find a solution that could keep the trucks rolling, the City Council tightened the rules, requiring the trucks to be parked 400 feet away from residential property, and restricting the hours the trucks could work. Other truck owners have complained about restrictive permitting rules.
Now, at the urging of Action NC, the council is reconsidering the ordinance. Action NC, which hosted a forum on the issue Tuesday night, proposes extending the hours a truck can operate, so that vendors can reach morning workers before 8 and later at night. The group also would like the council to ease restrictions on operating near residential neighborhoods.
The council should be open to tinkering the ordinance, while respecting that residents don’t want to hear a food truck clanking around their neighborhood early in the morning or late at night. One place to start: change the allowed hours of operation, which would permit trucks to operate more freely in commercial areas such as uptown and nab consumers on their way to work – or the bar crowd at night.
The City of Raleigh recently loosened its incredibly restrictive food truck ordinance, but those efforts came up short. The new Raleigh laws are still designed to protect existing restaurants at the expense of the consumer.
Unlike Raleigh’s half-hearted reform efforts, Charlotte has a real opportunity to open access to food truck entrepreneurs. There is doubtlessly a need for basic regulation to ensure food trucks conform to health requirements and don’t pollute their surroundings, but these regulations must not be so restrictive that they prevent customers from accessing food truck fare altogether. Allowing for longer hours and less-onerous distance requirements would be a step in the right direction.