After mounting friction between brick-and-mortar restaurants and Nashville’s growing number of food trucks, Metro will soon implement a host of regulations to define exactly where mobile kitchens can operate.
For months, Metro Public Works officials, playing the role of intermediary, have met with food truck vendors and traditional restaurant owners, discussions that have spurred Metro’s creation of a new “food vendor pilot program” to begin next week.
Under the plan, Metro will designate nine “food truck zones” where vendors are authorized to operate their mobile kitchens downtown. Food trucks will still be allowed on streets in neighborhoods outside downtown, but they would need to follow setbacks that set distance parameters from other restaurants and driveways.
Metro will require food vendors to obtain permits from the city to operate. A new food-vendor fee system is also in the works. Food vehicles operating on private properties will have to display written permission from the pertinent property owners.
Metro Public Works Director Billy Lynch revealed the new plans at the mayor’s budget hearings Thursday as Mayor Karl Dean prepares to set spending priorities for the next fiscal year.
In some instances, food trucks have clashed with brick-and-mortar restaurants, whose owners have grumbled about a number of issues –– from the foot traffic outside food trucks, to the smaller overhead mobile kitchens have to operate.
“We want to be a city that celebrates free enterprise, that celebrates all sorts of different food,” Mayor Karl Dean said. “Nashville is an exciting, compelling city, and food trucks are part of it.
“We’re making sure that we’re treating the people who operate the food trucks fairly and treating restaurants fairly,” Dean said.
Lynch said while the regulations will require some adjustments both sides — restaurants and food truck operators — are on board with the program.
“We’ve got to get the pilot off the ground,” Lynch said. “Once it gets off the ground, we’ll evaluate it and make changes if necessary.
Some of the downtown food zones include: South Broadway, near the Court of Flags; Second Avenue North, between James Robertson Parkway and Gay Street; and Deaderick Street between Third and Fourth avenues.
Lynch said vendors operating on streets within the zones would have to feed parking meters and pay a one-time $55 lane-closure fee. He also discussed proposing a first-ever food-truck fee that vendors would have to pay to obtain a permit. Dollars would go to the public works department.
The food truck fee — its dollar figure still undetermined — is contingent on future legislation, which the public works department plans to put forth at an undetermined time. Lynch said it would be either an annual or twice-a-year fee. The fee would be subject to Metro Council approval.
“I would like to see a portion of the fee go back into our budget to pay for the employees who will have to monitor the [food truck] activities to make sure everything’s going smoothly,” Lynch said.
Public works officials will inspect permitted food trucks periodically. Operations are not authorized in public right-of-ways between 3:30 and 6:00 a.m.
Other details will be listed on the public works website next week.
B.J. Lofback, owner of Riffs Fine Street Food and head of the Nashville Food Truck Association, described Metro as “amazing in handling this [issue] in the most fair and sensible way.” He said food truck vendors understand they use property that belongs to the city and can thus be amenable to the regulations.
“Nashville will soon be an example to the nation on how to handle street [vendors],” Lofback said. “We’re just excited that we’re here.”
The City Paper was unable to reach Greg Adkins, CEO of the Tennessee Hospitality Association, for comment.
The nine downtown food vendor zones are: