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Making it easier for food trucks

New city ordinance cuts permit fee

Clinton wants to encourage food trucks to come into town and set up for special events.

To that end, the City Council recently passed a revised ordinance that lowers the annual fee for permits, and cuts some of the red tape for the trucks to operate.

Instead of the previous $15 fee for a one- or three-day permit or $100 for an annual permit, the new ordinance gives food-truck operators a full year’s permit for just $25, City Manager Roger Houck said.

The ordinance also allows food trucks to set up on private property as long as they have the property owner’s permission. But they no longer must provide the city with a letter from the property owner granting that permission.

The only real restriction is that the trucks (or trailers, as some operators use) can’t set up on a city street unless that street is closed to traffic during the time the food operator is there.

That rule is meant to accommodate events such as those put on by the Historic Downtown Clinton Merchants Association, during which Market Street is closed to traffic and various street vendors are allowed to set up, Houck said.

City parking lots – such as the one on Commerce Street – are available for use by the food trucks, however, he said. Businesses that have their own off-street parking may allow food trucks to set up on their property without getting city permission, too, he said.

“We made it easier, simpler, for the food truck operators,” the city manager said. “We set a more-reasonable price, $25 a year, because our ordinance is more about regulating, not making money.

“If you were setting up on private property, we were making you have a letter from the property owner,” he said. “That’s not required now, as long as the property owner allows the food truck to be there.”

The rules allow them in residential areas, too, if there is sufficient room off public streets for a food truck to operate and not cause any traffic hazards, Houck said.

“Mariner Point probably could do it in the parking lot of the homeowners’ association building,” he said. “The food truck would still need a permit, though, to make sure its meeting Health Department regulations. We don’t want people selling hot dogs out of the backs of their pickups.”

The new ordinance makes the rules “good for any location in town,” Houck said. “It’s not tied to a specific location. If a business has its own parking lot, the truck can move from business to business.”

For now, mobile food operations still are not allowed to serve beer or any other alcoholic beverages, Houck said.

“That still is limited to a brick-and-mortar location,” he said. “But that is something the city could revisit if it wants to look at it. I’m not saying that could never happen.”

The new food truck ordinance effectively repealed and replaced the previous version, which was more restrictive.

Changes were the result of a study Houck and city staff made after there was some controversy last year about allowing food trucks to set up in subdivisions during the pandemic, when people were staying home and restaurants were not open for inside dining.

Clinton Police had told the people of the Westwood subdivision in mid-July that they could not host another food truck after police received complaints from some residents about one that had operated there the previous weekend.

The truck’s operator was notified by Clinton Chief of Police Vaughn Becker that a city permit was required for a food truck to operate in Clinton, and that the trucks were not allowed in R1-zoned residential areas, according to terms of the then-current ordinance.

Becker said that he had intervened only because he received complaints from some people in Westwood who objected to having the food truck in the neighborhood, and who wanted the city to enforce the rules as required by the ordinance.

“We do have an ordinance, and the trucks do have to get a permit, for either a year, or they can get one for just one day,” the chief said in July. “But our ordinance does not allow you to set up on a street or in an R1 residential area. Some of the people in the area complained about it. Some of the people there did not want that. They began calling us.”

The previous ordinance generally limited food trucks to private property in business- or industrial-zoned areas, or on public property such as Jaycee Park, Lakefront Park or the upper parking lot behind Market Street, Houck said at the time.

He added that there were special provisions that could allow a food truck in a residential neighborhood, with a permit from the city.

Even with the new ordinance, food trucks still must have Health Department permits and inspections, and follow safe food-handling requirements.