No more stalling: Bring out the food trucks; city approval of ordinance is long past due

July 22, 2016
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Grand Rapids city commissioners will at long last take one more formal step toward embracing food trucks as an important part of the downtown and neighborhood business landscape with a public hearing July 26. They’ll hear the pro and con of approving an ordinance allowing food trucks to operate on public property.

In 2012, opposition largely from brick-and-mortar downtown restaurants to approving food trucks in designated areas (mostly parking lots) even saw current proponent Mayor Rosalynn Bliss, then a commissioner, express doubt, saying “I’m not sure how I feel about this issue.”

Since the issue first arose in 2008, almost a decade of debate is excessive, and the commission should certainly be ready to approve the ordinance and its common-sense provisions. The ordinance stipulates the trucks must be at least 100 feet away from brick-and-mortar restaurants.

Much time and effort already has been wasted in blocking one of the purest small-business entrepreneurial efforts, one that also enjoys consumer demand.

As far back as 2011, Paul and Jessica Lee — owners of Winchester and more recently Donkey Taqueria — purchased and equipped a food truck but figuratively ran off the road, blockaded by the city’s regulations and restrictions. Nevertheless, their “What the Truck” hit what roads could be navigated, tongue-in-cheek protest blazing from the side panels.

The couple now is joined by several other brick-and-mortar restaurant owners, including BarFly Ventures founder and CEO Mark Sellers, who also was a vocal proponent during the timid city planning hearings in 2011. Even then, Neighborhood Ventures Executive Director Mark Lewis supported such an ordinance, noting several city neighborhoods could benefit from food trucks to provide choices and amenities not present.

In a Business Journal report, Sellers — owner of HopCat, Grand Rapids Brewing Co., Stella’s Lounge and Waldron Public House — notes the trucks offer diverse and interesting new fare in the area, and “(make) the dream of opening a restaurant accessible to low-income residents who are (talented) but can’t afford to open a brick-and-mortar location.”

That observation alone should provide enough reason for the city to waste no more time and to put all its talk of inclusion to work. The diversity represented by those awaiting such approval is readily apparent and certainly obvious in many other cities around the country.

There is urgency for the commission to act sooner rather than later. Any food truck business owner would desire to be ready for hungry crowds before ArtPrize opens in September. The 10-day art extravaganza also provides a ready opportunity to gauge the scope of the ordinance and provide review.

City action on this ordinance is long-past due.

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