After all the fuss, city council reaches agreement on new food truck regulations
Nearly one year after a social media frenzy sparked a citywide discussion on food trucks, the city council has come to terms on a revised ordinance that will allow mobile food vendors to operate downtown.
Under the changes agreed upon at Monday night's council meeting:
- Trucks will be allowed to operate in designated zones downtown: near the library, next to Central Park and on two blocks of Second Avenue SW (where the commuter buses line up). The latter option, allowing trucks to set up for the lunch hour on Second Avenue, goes against the recommendations of both the Rochester Downtown Alliance and the Rochester Convention and Visitors Bureau.
- Late night service will be available on Second Street SW (alongside the public transit shelters). At the request of the Rochester Police Department, last call for food will be 1 a.m.
- Outside of the central business district, trucks will be able to operate anywhere in the city — as long as the vendor is at least 150 feet away from the property line of a brick and mortar restaurant.
- The annual franchise fee, combined with the license fee, will be $1,500. That's higher than originally proposed; however, truck operators will not be required to plug parking meters.
The council worked tirelessly with city administration, downtown stakeholders and food truck entrepreneurs to develop the new regulations. In the end, neither side — the organizations lobbying on behalf of downtown businesses or the passionate group of food truck advocates — got exactly what they wanted.
But throughout the process, members of the council were transparent and responsive to feedback. They held two public forums on the issue and worked together to find compromise on an issue that was surprisingly more nuanced than expected. And in the end, the public's voice was heard.
Now, don't expect dozens of food trucks to be lining up downtown this summer. There will likely be a few at the most. But this new ordinance, which still requires final approval from the council on May 2, is a step in the right direction.
It provides a clear and concise set of rules for any entrepreneur who may be considering getting into the food truck business. And from everything that I've heard, members of the council will be open to reviewing the ordinance at the end of the first season to see if any adjustments need to be made.
So yes, we will continue to hear complaints that the council moved too slowly or that the regulations are still too strict. However, if you look at how this all went down — from an outcry on social media to an online survey to a series of public forums to a new ordinance based on compromise — we should be pleased with how the democratic process played out in Rochester.
About Sean Baker: Sean is the founder and editor of the Med City Beat. Under his direction, the site has transitioned from a small news blog to one of the most widely-read publications in the city. Prior to launching the site in 2014, Sean spent about two years producing television news in Green Bay and Rochester. His office is above a brewery, so please excuse any typos. Twitter.
(Cover graphic: The Med City Beat)