A recently proposed zoning ordinance could have major consequences for Ann Arbor’s food truck scene. The proposal, which was submitted this month to the Ann Arbor Planning Commission for review, would place limits on where food trucks can operate as well as a mobile vendor’s hours of operation.
Currently there are no ordinances on the books in Ann Arbor to specifically regulate mobile vendors. The city’s zoning coordinator Jon Barrett tells Eater this is an issue and his office receives several requests per week regarding food truck regulations. The proposed amendment is designed to help satisfy those requests. As it stands now, the only way a food truck can open for business in Ann Arbor is to apply for a permit to operate on a property that already serves food. Even then, the permits are limited to 180 days, Barrett says. It’s possible that having clarified regulations can allow for more food trucks to come into Ann Arbor.
But not everyone is happy with the language of the proposed ordinance. A section of the proposal limits the number of food trucks allowed in a particular parking lot and requires vendors to be at least 200 feet from any residential area. It has caused some uneasiness among local food truck fans and operators. In particular, it places local Chamorro-style barbecue truck Ricewood straight in the ordinance’s crosshairs as it sits in the Morgan & York parking lot, adjacent to several homes. If the ordinance passes with the current language, no food trucks — including Ricewood — would not be permitted to operate at that location. This leaves Ricewood with the options of relocating or opening a permanent restaurant.
Ann Arbor resident Dan McPherson eats at Ricewood at least once a week during food truck season. “Whether intended or not, the impact is to unfairly target small businesses, including Ricewood — one of my favorites,” McPherson says. “Ann Arbor should be promoting small businesses, not extinguishing them.”
Gabe Golub, the head pitmaster for Ricewood BBQ, agrees with city officials that there should clearer rules for food trucks. “It’s about time that Ann Arbor developed some actual food truck rules,” Golub says. “Ann Arbor has fallen far behind while cities like Austin, L.A., NYC, and San Francisco have set the groundwork on how to regulate food trucks.” However, he has concerns about how the current proposal limits the days and hours they can operate, which only discourages small businesses.
Fortunately, there’s still time to weigh-in on the issue before the proposal becomes official. “This is only a draft and it is in the initial phase,” Barrett says. “The 200-foot parameter is not set in stone as nothing is at this time.” The proposal will be open to public discussion at Planning Commission meeting set for September 25. Stay tuned for updates.
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