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Get ready for more food trucks: Charlotte just relaxed these rules

Customers order at the Papi Queso food truck during a food truck Friday evening event at Camden and Park Avenues in South End on January 9.
Customers order at the Papi Queso food truck during a food truck Friday evening event at Camden and Park Avenues in South End on January 9. dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

Charlotte City Council on Monday passed revised rules for food trucks that are meant to make it easier for them to do business in the city.

The new ordinance, passed unanimously, will allow food trucks to stay open later, operate closer to homes and reduce the red tape around permitting. Food trucks have grown rapidly in popularity over the past decade, with rallies of a dozen or more food trucks becoming staples in some neighborhoods. Food trucks are also gathering outside offices and rolling up to sell food next to the wave of new breweries that have sprung up throughout the city.

Mayor Pro Tem Vi Lyles said the new regulations offer the chance to foster “a vibrant food truck industry and yet make our neighborhoods feel as if they’ve got a safe environment in which to operate.”

Owns two trucks, which she started in the past year

Here are some of the key changes in the new food truck regulations:

▪ Food trucks can stay open later: The former ordinance, adopted in 2008, limited food trucks to operating between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. The new rules eliminate that restriction, so a food truck could (in theory) stay open all night.

▪ Food trucks can operate closer to houses and residential areas: The new ordinance lowers the minimum distance food trucks must maintain from houses to 100 feet, down from 400 feet. That should, in theory, make it easier to operate food trucks on the outskirts of neighborhoods adjacent to dense, commercial areas, such as Plaza Midwood and South End. There’s one caveat: If a food truck is open between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., it must maintain a 400-foot distance from the nearest houses.

▪ Changes who gets permits to operate food trucks on a specific site: Under the old system, each food truck would have to apply for a permit to operate at a location (like a food truck rally), which would be valid for 30 days, renewable twice, for a total of up to 90 days. Under the new system, it’s the property owner – not the food truck owner – who applies for the permit. The owner only needs one per location, not one per food truck, and the permit is valid for a year.

▪ Allows more food truck rallies: The new rules eliminate a requirement that food trucks be at least 400 feet from each other.

The new rules aren’t 100 percent a loosening, however.

▪ Adds a rule pushing food trucks away from restaurants: The new regulations add a rule that food trucks not be located within 50 feet of any restaurant without the owner’s approval. That part could restrict some locations, and is a boon to restaurant owners concerned about competition from nearby food trucks.

▪ Gives the city power to review a site if four or more trucks will be located there: Owners of sites that want to host four or more food trucks will need to submit plans for review to the city’s Neighborhood & Business Services, Department of Transportation and the Charlotte Fire Department.

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo

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