Chapel Hill thinks about, but waits and sees, on food truck fee

Apr. 10, 2013 @ 09:49 PM

The Town Council on Wednesday appeared mostly in favor of lowering the $600 fee the town charges vendors to operate food trucks in Chapel Hill.

But the council took no action, and instead instructed staff to return in a month with a proposal to show what a lower fee would look like.

It also asked staff to look at a plan proposed by Councilwoman Donna Bell that would allow vendors to pay the fee incrementally instead of all at once.

“I want us to come up with a financial hurdle that’s comparable to our neighbors and revisit it in a year,” said Councilman Jim Ward.

The move came in response to complaints from vendors who said the $600 regulatory fee the town charges food truck operators was simply too steep.

Since the town updated its Food Truck Ordinance in January 2012, it has only issued two permits, both of which went to one vendor, Baguettaboutit.

Tracy Livers, who operates Olde North State BBQ mobile food trailer, argued in favor of a lower fee, contending that vendors take a “huge leap of faith” without knowing whether they’re going to make money,

“The overall perception is that Chapel Hill is just not food truck friendly,” Livers said.

Katrina Ryan, a local business owner, argued against lowering the fee.

Ryan said it would be unfair to brick-and-mortar businesses to lower the fee because they pay $5,000 to $7,000 in rent each month for the privilege of doing business in Chapel Hill.

“It’s not a question of whether you want this,” Ryan said. “It’s a question of whether you want to subsidize them.”

The $600 fee is the amount town staffers said was needed to recover costs associated with monitoring and enforcing food truck rules.

Staffers said reducing the fee would affect the town’s ability to conduct the twice-monthly inspections envisioned when the ordinance was adopted, but would not eliminate them altogether.

While Orange County is responsible for health inspections, the town regulates where food trucks operate, whether vendors pick up trash afterward and ensure they don’t block sidewalks, among other things.

The staff also has asked council to consider amending the ordinance to allow special food truck events.

Under that proposal, the organizer of a special event such as a food truck rodeo, popular now in Durham, would pay $200 per year to obtain a specialty market license for each site on which events would be held.

Non-licensed food truck operators would then be required to pay $25 per event specialty vendor license. Licensed operators would not be required to buy the license.

Other area municipalities also regulate food trucks, but their fees are lower than the $600 charged by Chapel Hill.

In Raleigh, vendors must obtain a $150 food truck retail sales permit and a $78 food truck zoning permit. Both permits must be renewed annually.

Carrboro charges vendors a one-time $75 fee and Durham charges vendors a $10 fee, a $25 business privilege tax and a $26 home occupancy fee if they work out of a home.

Also on Wednesday, the council approved a proposal to begin charging motorists a fee to use the town’s Eubanks and Jones Ferry roads and Southern Village park-n-ride lots.

The council tabled the item last month after it could not reach consensus on whether town residents not affiliated with UNC who catch Triangle Transit Authority (TTA) buses from the Eubanks Road park-n-ride lot should pay the new fee.

Brian Litchfield, the town’s interim transit director, told council that TTA is not interested in making a payment to the town to subsidize its riders’ use of the lot,

The town will begin to charge parking fees for the lots in August to coincide with UNC also beginning to charge motorists who use its park-n-ride lots.

Under the proposal, motorists who use the town’s lots would pay $2 daily, $21 monthly or $250 per year, and passes sold by UNC to its employees would be honored at town lots.