City Food Truck Regulations Remain A Work In Progress

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Laura Lee's Ajumama Food Truck was two feet too long to qualify for the city's pilot program regulating where food trucks can park on Columbus streets.(Photo: Marilyn Smith, WOSU News)
Laura Lee's Ajumama Food Truck was two feet too long to qualify for the city's pilot program regulating where food trucks can park on Columbus streets.(Photo: Marilyn Smith, WOSU News)

When the city’s pilot plan to regulate food truck parking on public streets took effect in June, only a handful of truck owners signed up. Many truck owners didn’t even qualify for the program due to limits imposed by the city.

Before the city pilot program went into effect food trucks were barred altogether from parking on city streets.

But about 40 percent of food trucks in Columbus didn’t qualify for the city’s pilot parking program because of size. Laura Lee owns Ajumama a food truck specializing in Korean street food.

“We’re personally a little disappointed because we’re at 27 feet. We’re two feet too long to participate in the pilot program”, Lee said.

In the months since the pilot program went into effect, truck and bricks and mortar restaurant owners have gotten together to hash out a parking program, they say, is more equitable to everyone.

Elizabeth Lessner who owns six popular Columbus restaurants with two more in the wings has been instrumental in coming up with new guidelines. Under an agreement she has worked out with truck owners food trucks could disperse evenly throughout the city with some conditions.

“For example if a hot dog shop wants to put their cart on Dirty Franks they’re gonna have to get the existing brick and mortar that has the same product to agree to that. But again we’re trying to avoid that. I mean just go to the next block”, said Lessner.

There are also rules requiring food trucks to limit noise and control litter.

Brian Reed is the President of the Central Ohio Food Truck Association and the owner of MoJo Tago. He said it may be difficult to please truck owners, restaurants and the city.

“It’s yet to be seen if we can iron out all of the issues that are there. When you talk about radius restrictions and where trucks can go and can’t go. And then we you get the city involved, the city is going to want to have a say in that. And then how’s that gonna be enforced”, Reed said.

Reed was one of only a handful of food truck owners to qualify and sign up for the city’s pilot program. Because the number is so small Reed thinks the program needs to expand before the city comes to any conclusions about creating a permanent program.

“You get a better data sample if you have more people participating. If it’s a more wide open market, there would be much more to learn from a limited number of trucks and a limited number of spaces”, Reed said.

But Columbus City Councilwoman Michelle Mills says the lack of participation in the pilot by majority of truck tells her the trucks were still able to thrive and conduct business without needing any use of public streets to park.

“Then maybe there is no formalized solution we need to do. So no information is as good as some information”, Mills said.

Mills says the city has to balance the concerns of restaurant and food truck owners with parking and safety concerns of residents. She says truck size was limited by the city to keep sight lines and disability ramps open at intersections. Parking for trucks was limited in areas, Like the Short North, where spaces are at a premium.

But Mills and restaurant owner Elizabeth Lessner do agree on one thing. This may be an opportunity for the city to do what no other city so far has– come up with model legislation for food trucking parking regulations. Lessner says Columbus is poised to create an agreement that could be a model for cities across the country…if and it’s a big if…the city goes along.