Council paves way for on-street food trucks

Council paves way for on-street food trucks

By Erich Wagner (File photo)

After Alexandria’s first food truck pilot program failed to attract meaningful participation from mobile eateries, city council passed new regulations to allow limited on-street vending in an attempt to test whether the dining trend is viable in the Port City.

Last November, city councilors expressed dismay at a lack of participation by food trucks in an off-street pilot program. Vendors said the permitting process was too expensive, and the designated locations did not produce enough demand to warrant coming to Alexandria.

As a result, city staff developed a set of criteria with which officials with the city traffic and parking board and city council could approve a limited number of on-street sites for mobile eateries to set up shop. Staff also proposed waiving the $250 vendor fee for trucks looking to enter the program in 2016, while leaving in place the $100 application fee and any relevant health department, business taxes and other fees.

Assistant City Attorney Joanna Anderson explained how staff developed five possible sites at which to allow roving restaurants.

“We wanted to adopt some minimum standards, so that the actual locations aren’t in the code, but would be approved at a later time,” she said. “The criteria look for places that can handle the congestion that food trucks can cause in the area, that have measures of pedestrian safety and can handle a concentration of people in the area. And we looked at whether a demand for food trucks would be there or not.

“[Most] streets in Alexandria cannot accommodate on-street vending, but there are certain locations that can, and we should consider them. That’s what this criteria tries to get at.”

Anderson outlined five locations staff eyed as possible fits under the new criteria, and indicated that the city traffic and parking board would review them upon passage of the new regulations. A stretch of North West Street near the Braddock Metro station would allow up to two trucks at once; North Fairfax Street, adjacent to Montgomery Park, could accommodate up to three trucks; the 2200 block of Eisenhower Ave. would hold up to three trucks; a site on Madison Street near Alexandria House would fit up to three trucks; and the 1700 block of King St. could house up to three trucks.

City Councilor Del Pepper expressed concerns about what would happen in the event of a large number of food trucks vying for the limited spaces available to them.

“How do you determine who gets, for example near Braddock Metro, those two spots?” Pepper said. “Is it first come first serve? [And could] that end up causing a good bit of discontent?”

“It could if there’s that much demand for space,” Anderson said. “D.C. did end up having that problem so they implemented a lottery system. We don’t know if there’s enough of a demand for those spaces now, so we can wait and see if we have that problem. We can always add something to address that if it turns out we do.”

Mayor Allison Silberberg sought reassurances that setting up small zones for food trucks — where parking would be restricted from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. — would not affect residents or visitors’ ability to park overnight.

“It seems to me that, if I had been parking on the street and going to sleep at whatever hour at night, then I’d have to get up at 6:30 to move my car,” she said. “I’m just not sure why we allow it at 7 a.m.”

City Councilor John Chapman noted that most of the sites being considered are either in commercial areas or the surrounding buildings all have off-street parking and that removing the option for morning hours could potentially hurt some food truck operators.

“Some folks might come up with a breakfast-focused truck,” he said. “Someone might want a pancake food truck, I don’t know. And near Metro [stations], you’ll have folks coming off the Metro in the morning, and it might be an opportunity for some people.”

“That point is well taken, but we have a lot of people who are single in our city and who have significant others who, frankly, stay with them,” Silberberg persisted with a laugh. “And then those people wouldn’t have parking in the morning.”

Chapman said he spoke from experience that moving one’s car is already a common experience when visiting a friend in the city.

“As a significant other, it is my duty to find parking that allows me to stay for the duration of time that I choose,” he said. “I think everybody who is single and is dating somebody that has restricted parking in their area has to deal with that as a part of urban life.”

Anderson confirmed that each site being considered is already subject to daytime restricted or metered parking.

Councilors voted 6-0 in favor of the new regulations, while City Councilor Paul Smedberg was absent. The city traffic and parking board now will examine staff’s five proposed locations before making final recommendations for council.