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City talks food trucks

On Tuesday, the LaGrange City Council called for a public hearing on potentially making regulations on food trucks less prohibitive.

The city council seeks to loosen those restrictions in light of the growing popularity of food trucks and local businesses and venues who regularly wish to host food trucks for events. The current city ordinance forces food trucks to change locations at least once every 10 days and then must not return to a location for 60 days. 

“Currently, Wild Leap and Sweetland and others have food trucks that are operating outside of our current ordinance, and we are trying to create an ordinance that sanctions them, so that they are safe until we do the comprehensive re-write,” City Planner Leigh Threadgill said. “Really, it is just housekeeping. There are durational requirements in our code as it relates to food trucks, and we are basically not holding those two locations accountable. It’s really the DDA that sanctioned this. It is kind of like what we did with open container, to allow those food trucks to be at different events that are held downtown.”

No one spoke against the regulation change during the city council work session or evening meeting, and several council members said that they would like to see the ordinance reworked to make it easier for small business owners, like food truck owners, especially when they are being specifically asked to take part in events in LaGrange.

“The issue is that the food trucks have to move around,” Mayor Jim Thornton said. “They can’t stay in one location, but you are about to have this ice skating rink up there for three months in a row at Sweetland, and they are going to have food vendors setting up for that three-month duration. So, that is a violation, potentially. Or, if you have three concerts within three weeks, that is potentially too soon before you can come back to the same location.”

The proposed amendments to the zoning code and business licensing code would make changes to sections 30-5-149, which limits operation on any one lot; 25-35-64(2)(c), which would be changed to make allowances for the Downtown LaGrange Development Authority; and section 25-25-65, which would make additional allowances for use during non-business hours and at the request of DLDA. These changes mark a change in the opinions of council members on food trucks since the code was last updated.

“When the food trucks first came out, we had a different mayor, and we had people who have [now] gone off council who really did not like signs. They didn’t like food trucks,” Council Member Willie Edmondson said. “They didn’t like [certain types] of business, so there was crafting of that ordinance that pushed them out. I agree that we need to liberalize it.”

The change also takes into account the increased popularity of mobile vendors.

“When we crafted the ordinance, we didn’t really have these kinds of events going on like we do now at Sweetland, at the Wild Leap pavilion and so forth, but now it has become more popular,” Thornton said. “It still would not effect at all the taco truck that moves around or the parties that people book or Kona Ice that goes around to various birthday parties. They’ll still be the same.”

Threadgill agreed that the current ordinance was very prohibitive and pointed council members to the rise of food truck festivals in other cities.

“I like the food trucks,” Council Member Jim Arrington said. “I think we need more of them.”

Thornton also encouraged the council to consider easing regulations on food during the city code re-write that is under review.

“I actually think when we are doing this re-write, we need to liberalize those rules because I think they are very prohibitive,” Thornton said. “… I think we need to encourage it.”

Council Member LeGree McCamey asked if the ordinance would apply to produce vendors in the city. Threadgill said that those vendors would not be under that particular section of the city ordinance, and Thornton said those vendors should be considered in the city code rewrite as well.

“We need to encourage entrepreneurs,” Thornton said.

The LaGrange City Council will meet again on Nov. 27 at 5:30 p.m. at 208 Ridley Avenue.