Fort Smith Board hears proposed mobile food truck rule changes

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 138 views 

After several months of research, surveys and meetings by city staff and the Fort Smith Planning Commission, a draft of a new ordinance regulating mobile food trucks was presented to the Fort Smith Board of Directors.

Wally Bailey, director of development services for Fort Smith, presented the proposed new rules Tuesday (April 28) during a Board study session. He said the “regulatory and financial incentives” in the new language were one of the changes recommended by an 18-month study that resulted in the Fort Smith Comprehensive Plan.

Specifically, the new rules would allow mobile food trucks in the downtown Fort Smith area, which is zoned C-6, and in “moderate” use industrial areas zoned I-2. Overall, the key areas reviewed by the Commission and city staff have been length of permits; products/foods permitted, permit fees, types of vehicles permitted/allowed, and relocation requirements/flexibility.

In meetings prior to Tuesday, Bailey has said the city’s rules are “antiquated” and more restrictive than most cities, and more so than rules among a group of eight cities he and other city staffers have reviewed. The cities reviewed are Bentonville, College Station, Texas, Fayetteville, Lee’s Summit, Mo., Little Rock, and Tulsa. College Station and Lee’s Summit were reviewed because of similar population, Bailey said.

Bailey told the Board that the draft ordinance was crafted with numerous rounds of input, including eight Planning Commission meeting, a direct survey of downtown Fort Smith property, a Facebook survey and meetings with the Central Business Improvement District.

State law, according to Bailey, restricts mobile food truck use on Garrison Avenue, the center of downtown Fort Smith. The avenue is a state highway. However, he said a survey of the downtown area showed more than 390 spaces for mobile food trucks. Bailey said not all the spots are ideal, but room is available.

Key features of the new ordinance include:
• Downtown parallel parking spaces for mobile foods trucks would be available from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. to capture after hours customers after restaurants close;

• Exemption of non-profit events if operating at a site less than five consecutive days;

• Mobile trucks must be at least 300 feet from a public or private school;

• Permits would be issued annually instead of just for 120 days, with the annual permit also allowing for multiple locations; and

• Insurance with higher coverage levels for mobile food trucks operating in a public right of way.

At last review, there were 29 mobile food vendors licensed in Fort Smith, and Bailey said response to the proposed new rules indicates some food truck owners not operating in the city would come to town if the new rules are adopted.

There were some questions from the Board about insurance requirements and hours of operation, but most seemed comfortable with the new rules. City Director Mike Lorenz thanked the city staff and Commission for taking the time to develop the new rules.

The Board is scheduled to vote on the ordinance during a May 19 regular meeting.