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Iowa City Food Trucks get first ok to start operating around downtown

BY WILLIAM COONEY | MARCH 30, 2015 5:00 AM

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Food trucks could soon be coming to areas around, but not in, downtown Iowa City.

On March 23, the Iowa City City Council voted 7-0 on first consideration to amend Iowa City’s motor vehicle and traffic ordinance to allow food-truck vending on city streets.

Following the city’s pilot food-truck program in 2014, in which food trucks were allowed to operate in Chauncey Swan Park, city staff recommended a change to the city code allowing food trucks to vend in parking stalls on city streets with a city-issued permit.

Food trucks will not be allowed to vend “downtown” as defined in the ordinance, within 150 feet of a restaurant, or in any residential zone. Food trucks will be allowed to operate on city streets from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week.

Mayor Pro Tem Susan Mims said the City Council faced similar issues with food trucks as it did when the food vendors first started on the Pedestrian Mall, so the council wants to take the process one step at a time.

“We want to find the same kind of balance with the food trucks as we have with the food carts downtown,” Mims said after the March 23 council meeting. “This is a responsible way to get started on that without putting too much of a burden on the city or the vendors.”

Kyle Sieck, the owner and head chef at Local Burrito, said he doesn’t know exactly where he’ll set up shop if the ordinance passes.

“There are some good areas around, but the ordinance will start right as students are leaving for the summer,” Sieck said. “Things could be interesting in the fall, with football games and more people walking around in general,” he said.

He said with students leaving its hard to know where the best foot traffic spots will be this summer.

Not all vendors think that the city’s ordinance is the right way to go about regulating food trucks.

Charles Jones, the owner of the Keepin’ Up with the Joneses food truck, said he thinks a “food truck row” would be the best idea for Iowa City.

“The way it’s set up now, vendors are going to be blocks apart. I believe that there would be more of an appeal if all of the food trucks were parked together,” Jones said. “It would give us variety, and that’s what people are looking for. It would also give us more consistency with our customers and with the city.”

“It would also keep us from racing each other to get to the best spot each day,” he said.

Jones said he spent the winter traveling in states in which food trucks are much more common than Iowa.

“In Florida, they call them food-truck rallies. They have 30 plus food trucks all set up in one area, tables for people to eat, and Porta-Potties set up,” Jones said. “The city helped the vendors set it all up, too. Iowa City’s not there yet, but I hope to see it move in that direction.”

Elizabeth Wohlford, the owner of the Box Lunch LLC, said she sees a lot of opportunity in the area around downtown.

“There’s lots of good areas to get to students and the foot traffic that’s downtown,” Wohlford said. “I think we’ll look for an area that could be closer to the dorms, but we have no idea yet.”

Wohlford said she thinks the hours trucks will be allowed to operate are fine.

“They already have the Ped Mall carts for the bar crowd,” she said. “I think we’ll do just fine with the foot traffic we get.”

Iowa City follows Des Moines in making recent change to food-truck regulations.

The Des Moines City Council approved a pilot program on March 9 to allow food trucks to operate in metered parking spaces in downtown Des Moines between 5:30 a.m. and 1:30 a.m.

The program will run six months through the fall and will be closely monitored by Des Moines officials to help make plans for the future of food trucks in the city.

Mims said Iowa City’s ordinance is about protecting brick and mortar restaurants as well.

“We don’t want to hurt our downtown restaurants,” she said. “That’s why the trucks won’t be allowed within 150 feet of a restaurant … in the end, we want to make them [food trucks] just as viable of a business for the city as our brick and mortar establishments are.”


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