Council approves food truck rules

By Erich Wagner (File photo)

City councilors approved regulations for a food truck pilot program Tuesday, but methods to measure its success remain in the works.

The controversial measure allows mobile eateries to sell their wares in Alexandria at off-street sites, including private property, events, farmers markets, schools and select parks until October 2015. The regulations require four-wheeled vendors to apply for a litany of business and health department permits, and caps the number of trucks at any given park at three.

One aspect still up in the air is how council will judge whether the program is successful at the end of the trial period. Its success — or failure — will determine whether officials further ease regulations on the culinary craze.

City Councilor Justin Wilson said officials will put metrics in place — eventually.

“I think we’re still talking about that issue and what the best way to do that is,” he said. “There are a couple of different ways we could come at it, so I’m not terribly worried about that aspect. It’s solvable.”

Fellow City Councilor John Chapman said a grading system is an ongoing discussion among his colleagues and within the resident-led task force that was charged with designing a food truck proposal in the first place. But it’s important that councilors don’t ignore the food truck committee’s recommendations, he argued.

Ultimately, it’s up to them to decide how to measure success or failure, Chapman said.

Uncertainty aside, food truck owner and head of the DMV Food Truck Association Che Ruddell-Tabisola said the community has responded positively to most of the regulations.

“For the first time ever in Alexandria, you can get a city-issued permit for a food truck,” he said. “That’s a huge step forward. That’s a positive.”

Regulations that may seem onerous at first glance, like requiring food trucks to get permission from recreational sports leagues using city parks before doing business there, aren’t a big deal, he said. Food truck operators already partner with nonprofits for fundraisers.

“The idea is there are a lot of sports leagues that want to have their own vending as a fundraiser,” Ruddell-Tabisola said. “A lot of us are very comfortable with vending and supporting or adopting a team, donating a portion of our sales. One of our guys just opened a brick-and-mortar location in Alexandria and already wants to sponsor a team.”

The only sticking point for food truck operators is the three-truck cap at city parks, Ruddell-Tabisola said.

“We always have had the position that the market should demand how many are appropriate for a place,” he said. “This seems somewhat arbitrary, not market-based. Food truck regulations should be about public health, safety and best food-handling practices.”

But Chapman said it’s better to start small. He noted that three trucks is a good cap for some parks. Others could probably handle more, but officials need a baseline at the beginning.

“If we overwhelm Alexandria with food trucks at the beginning, that could be the worst thing we could possibly do,” he said. “We want it here for the long haul, not just a short duration.”

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