Tuesday, November 24, 2015

City seeks new food truck ordinance

After 20 months of successful experience with a pilot program for food trucks, the City of Knoxville’s Office of Business Support is seeking public feedback on a proposed Mobile Food Unit (MFU) ordinance.

The proposed ordinance has been posted on the City’s website at knoxvilletn.gov/mobilefood. The period for public comment will run from Nov. 24 through Dec. 9. The City administration and staff will consider the comments and adjust the proposed ordinance as needed. The ordinance is scheduled to be sent to City Council for first reading on Thursday, Dec. 17.

Since the City launched its Mobile Food Vendor Pilot Program in April 2014, 24 MFUs have completed the application and inspection process to operate in the City.

“Knoxville has really embraced food trucks,” said Patricia Robledo, the City’s Business Liaison. “The pilot program gave us all a great opportunity to explore best practices and evaluate feedback before adopting a permanent ordinance. This ordinance will provide vendors, customers and citizens with guidance and certainty on the safe and reasonable operation of Mobile Food Units.”

The ordinance makes several significant changes to the pilot program, including the following:
  •  Reduction in Permit Fee and Renewal Fee. The pilot program included a tiered permitting fee system; MFUs operating only on private property paid $200 annually, and those operating on private property and in designated zones in the public right-of-way paid $400 annually. Under the proposed ordinance, all MFUs will pay $200 annually and the renewal fee is only $50. The City believes that $200 is a fair fee that covers the costs of administering the MFU program and coordinating and monitoring the activity of MFUs within the City.
  • Addition of Temporary Permit. Under the pilot program, any unit operating within the City had to pay the same permit fee regardless of where the vendor was based. Oftentimes, in addition to local vendors, events use vendors from outside of the City. Additionally, some local vendors desire only to operate at one or two events within the City per year. Therefore, the City is offering a temporary permit for MFUs as part of the proposed ordinance. The temporary permit costs $75, is valid for three consecutive days, and can only be used by a vendor or unit two times during the same calendar year. Vendors applying for a temporary permit must adhere to the same regulations as vendors holding a regular permit. This temporary permit allows single-time or infrequent vendors to operate their MFUs while ensuring that those MFUs are just as safe for the employees, customers, and citizens.
  • Expansion of Allowable Zoning Districts. The pilot program allowed MFUs to operate only in commercial and form code districts. The proposed ordinance allows MFUs to operate in more districts: Commercial Districts, Industrial Districts, Office Districts, Open Space Districts, and Form Based Code Districts. The only restrictions to operation in these districts apply to property within a certain distance of residentially zoned property, but these restrictions can be waived with permission from certain property owners.
  • The ordinance allows MFUs to operate in residential districts only as part of a special event that is sponsored by a neighborhood association, by a homeowners’ association, or by the City of Knoxville or another governmental entity (such as the Knox County Health Department or the Transportation Planning Organization). The expansion of the zoning districts gives MFUs flexibility in reaching customers, while also minimizing impacts in those areas where residents could be affected.
  • Addition of Appeals for Permit Revocation. Similar to the pilot program, the proposed ordinance provides that a permit can be revoked if (1) an applicant obtained the Unit Permit by knowingly providing false information on the application; (2) the continuation of the vendor’s use of the Unit Permit presents a threat to public health or safety, or if the vendor otherwise presents a threat to public health or safety; or (3) the vendor or MFU violates regulations of this Article or any other City of Knoxville ordinance. The proposed ordinance provides a process by which the permit revocation can be appealed and reconsidered by a three-member board of City staff.
  • Reduction in Insurance Policy Limits. In addition to requiring proof of other types of insurance, the pilot program required vendors to obtain commercial liability insurance with limits of $2 million with an aggregate limit of $3 million. After evaluating these limits, the City has reduced the limits to $1 million/$2 million in the proposed ordinance. These requirements are referenced in the ordinance and can be found on the MFU Permit Application.
There are other, minor changes throughout the ordinance. All of these changes are a result of feedback the City received during the course of the pilot program.

“I really appreciate all of the vendors working with us to develop this program,” Robledo said. “We have all learned a lot, and the ordinance reflects that.”

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