St. Louis Park council members question food truck ordinance

A customer makes a purchase at a food truck at The Shops at West End during the You Betcha! Minnesota Made Festival in August. Food trucks are allowed in St. Louis Park at special events and in front of restaurants if they serve the same food as the restaurant. However, they are currently otherwise banned. A proposed city ordinance under council consideration would allow food trucks in other locations as well but has stalled amid council concerns about noise, signage and hours of operation. (Submitted photo)

Food trucks have become a metro trend but St. Louis Park council members are hesitating to approve a proposed ordinance that would relax rules for the mobile eateries.

City code limits mobile food vehicles to special events or sidewalk sales with a maximum of 14 days of service per calendar year. Besides special events like Parktacular and farmers’ markets, the food trucks can only sell outside what is being sold inside at the property where they are located.

A proposed ordinance would allow food trucks to make sales at any property that does not contain residences. Food trucks could also operate at events held in city parks or on right-of-way areas that have been closed for events. The proposed ordinance would also limit lighting to lights sufficient to illuminate the vehicle interior and service deck. Signs would have to be permanently attached to the vehicle.

Another segment of the proposed ordinance would allow institutions like community centers, religious organizations and educational facilities to let small catering companies use their kitchens. Staff members at the Sabes Jewish Community Center and Lenox Community Center in particular have expressed interest in such an arrangement.

The proposed ordinance would allow caterers to use commercial kitchens at such institutions located in specific residential zoning districts. The only condition would be that caterers could not store their commercial vehicles outside.

The St. Louis Park Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval last month but council members hesitated at a Sept. 4 meeting. Amid concerns about generator noise and signage related to the food trucks, the council members voted unanimously to table the proposal while the council further studies the issues involved.

Councilmember Susan Sanger’s comment about sign rules contributed to a larger debate about the proposed ordinance.

“I have a strong interest in not having large billboards attached to these trucks,” Sanger said. “I think some size limitations would be in order.”

Additionally, Sanger said she believed the ordinance should clearly state that alcohol sales from food trucks would not be allowed.

Councilmember Anne Mavity, meanwhile, expressed concern about a lack of restrictions on hours of operation in the proposed ordinance.

“We did not include any hours of operation as some of these events may go into the night, such as the National Night Out, things like that,” said Assistant Zoning Administrator Gary Morrison.

Mavity countered, “National Night Out won’t go until 3 in the morning in most places.”

She suggested city staff review what other communities have listed in ordinances regarding hours of operation.

Councilmember Jake Spano, who also serves as director of marketing for St. Paul, said the number-one issue regarding food trucks in St. Paul has been noise.

“Even if they’re not parked on a city street, you’re going to have a problem if you have someone with a two-stroke generator out there running it at 2           o’clock at night,” Spano said.

He said he is less concerned about signs as he has not seen any food trucks with billboards or signs any larger than the side of the truck.

Sanger picked up on the noise concern as well.

“Sometimes trucks have music, or what purports to be music, and it can be pretty loud and maybe we need to have some restrictions on that so we don’t have amplified music blasting out,” Sanger said.

Following the set of questions, the council voted to table the matter and review it at a study session on a date yet to be determined.

Mayor Jeff Jacobs indicated the council generally supports food trucks as a concept overall.

He said, “I’m hearing a lot of questions but no real objections to it.”