A food truck soon may be coming to a parking lot near you; Santa Fe depot project delayed

I’ve always loved eating food in a truck (my F150 is the one with splotches of Krispy Kreme glaze on the windshield, and my slacks are the ones with orange juice spilled in an inopportune spot.) But it has been interesting to watch how many people love to eat food served from a truck. Well, look for that trend to accelerate because proposed changes at City Hall may usher in a new era for food trucks in Lawrence.

City commissioners are set to approve some new regulations that should make it much easier for food trucks to set up shop for long periods of time on private property. Commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting will consider removing the regulation that prohibits food trucks from serving no more than three hours in any one location. Commissioners also may remove a regulation that makes it illegal for more than two food trucks to be set up on one piece of property.

Instead, commissioners are set to approve new regulations that will allow a food truck to operate for as long as it wants on a piece of private property, as long as the property has received a City Hall site plan that accommodates food trucks. What that means in real life is that a bar, for instance, could go through the planning process and designate a specific area of its parking lot to accommodate a food truck. The food truck could then operate there all day and all night, and, presto, a bar that doesn’t have a kitchen suddenly has a way to offer food to its patrons. If the bar has a particularly large parking lot, it could carve out space for perhaps three or four food trucks.

It won’t just be bars that will be able to take advantage of this new regulation. I suppose the owner of a shopping center that is light on restaurants could choose to add a food truck area. Or really, an underutilized parking lot of any kind could be a candidate to host one or more food trucks. The key is that private property owners will have to go through a bit of a process. Getting a site plan isn’t as simple as just filling out a one-page form. Owners generally will have to have professional plans drawn up and will have to show that the food trucks won’t hamper regular parking, interfere with sight lines at intersections and other such things that planners care about. The site plan process also requires neighbors within 200 feet of the property to be notified of the plans before they are approved.

The new regulations don’t open the door for food trucks to park on public property. For example, there are lots of food trucks that would like to take a space in a city-owned downtown parking lot. But commissioners, thus far, have shown no interest in allowing that to happen. They have said that would be unfair to the traditional downtown restaurants that pay a lot of money in property taxes to have a storefront.

But we’ll see how this all develops. Downtown has a few private parking lots, and it will be interesting to see if any of them go through the process to allow food trucks. Thus far, I haven’t heard that is the driving force behind the proposed changes.

Instead, as we’ve reported, developer Tony Krsnich would like to use food trucks on a regular basis for a new bistro concept he hopes to open in a small building just west of the Poehler Lofts near Eighth and Pennsylvania. Officials in the city’s planning department also tell me that Krsnich has expressed some interest in using a vacant lot in the Eighth and Pennsylvania area to house multiple food trucks to create a “food garden” type of concept. When I hear more about that, I’ll pass details along.

Also, there’s a new shaved ice food truck in west Lawrence that would benefit from the new regulations. I recently talked with Lori Bartel, who along with her husband, Kyle, have opened SnoFlower Shaved Ice in the parking lot of the former Lawrence Funeral Chapel at Sixth and Monterrey Way.

Because of the regulations, the business — which offers more than 50 flavors of shaved ice — has had to limit its hours to 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, and then from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on the weekends.

Their business is an example of how a food truck can take hold about anywhere. The property at Sixth and Monterey Way is in the process of being converted into an animal hospital, but it has a pretty large parking lot and is on a highly traveled road. If landlords think they can get a few hundred dollars a month out of an unused parking spot, I suspect there will be many landlords open to the idea. That seems like it could be a significant development in the local food service industry.

SnoFlower may be a good example of how it can work. Bartel said business has been strong, even with the limited number of hours. The shaved ice stand has carved out a niche by having a large line of flavorings that are free from artificial dyes and flavoring agents.

“We’ve had so many kids come by that have been allergic to some of the dyes found in other flavors, so this is the first time they’ve had a snow cone,” Bartel said. “It has been great.”

It will be interesting to see what types of new cuisine may be introduced through food trucks in the city. I’m game for eating all types of food from a truck, but I must say I do limit what I will eat in a truck. Let’s just say there are very good reasons why I don’t drink coffee.

In other news and notes from around town:

• It looks like plans to refurbish the 1950s-style Burlington Northern Santa Fe depot in East Lawrence are going to be delayed. The project originally was scheduled to be bid for construction in October, but that date now is being pushed back to an undetermined time. The reason for the delay is because the city has not yet been able to negotiate a transfer of ownership on the station, which is at Seventh and New Jersey streets. The station is owned by BNSF, but the railroad has been open to essentially deeding over the property to the city, assuming certain conditions can be met that would allow BNSF personnel to still have some office space in the facility. There are other issued to be considered as well, such as liability issues and other such matters that lawyers who bill by the hour really enjoy.

Bottom line, an agreement hasn’t yet been worked out, but City Hall officials aren’t yet sounding an alarm. In their update to commissioners, staff members indicated they still anticipate a land transaction to be completed later this fall.

In June, the city was awarded a state grant that will pay for 80 percent of the $1.5 million rehabilitation project. City officials said the delay has not yet jeopardized the city’s access to that grant funding.