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.
It will be trains versus trolleys at Lawrence City Hall tonight. Well, sort of.
City commissioners at their meeting tonight are being asked to select three transportation projects to submit as grant applications for state funding.
Topping the list is a familiar project — renovation of the Santa Fe Depot in East Lawrence. City Hall staff members are proposing the city apply for a $1.5 million transportation enhancement grant to make necessary improvements to the station at Seventh and New Jersey streets.
But staff members also have brought up the idea of a different use for those funds — a brick street restoration in the 600 and 700 blocks of Indiana Street.
This project has a unique twist to it: Trolley tracks. In 1909 the Lawrence Light & Railway Company opened a new trolley route called Route 3, which also was dubbed “Indiana Run” because it went from Eighth and Massachusetts to Indiana Street to Fourth Street and then back.
Those trolley tracks still exist under the current asphalt pavement of the street, and they are starting to create some surface problems. The city is proposing to apply for a $660,000 transportation enhancement grant that would allow the street to be restored to its original brick street format, complete with stone curbs. And, at the moment, the city is proposing to put in new railroad ties and reinstall the original trolley rails down the middle of the street.
There’s no plan for a trolley service in the works, but the grant category is for transportation projects with a historic element. The trolley tracks fit the bill.
The state has limited funding for the grant program, and so city staff members are recommending the Santa Fe Depot project be submitted as the city’s No. 1 priority in the category. The city, however, has sought grants before to restore the 1950s-era depot, but been unsuccessful. That is in part because the city doesn’t yet own the building.
City commissioners have been reluctant to execute a low cost purchase of the station from Burlington Northern Santa Fe because it doesn’t want to be obligated to make the significant repairs needed. They rather would have a grant to help with that, but grant agencies have been reluctant to award money for a building the city does not yet own. So, we’ll likely go through the chicken-or-the-egg routine again tonight at City Hall. And we’ll discuss trains and trolleys.
Commissioners also are being asked to choose transportation projects for two other grant categories. Those choices are:
• $57,500 to restore the old stone monuments that mark the entry into the Breezedale neighborhood at 23rd and Massachusetts streets. The project is in the scenic and environmental category. It is the only project the city is recommending for that category.
• $170,000 to extend the concrete Burroughs Creek Rail Trail from East 23rd Street to East 29th Street. Currently there is an ag lime, gravel path that runs from 23rd Street to 29th Street. The proposal would replace that path with a 10-foot-wide concrete path, matching the new Burroughs Creek Trail, which starts at 23rd Street and runs north to 11th Street. City staff members are recommending this project be the city’s No. 1 priority in the bicycle and pedestrian category.
• $580,000 to build a new path from the proposed Rock Chalk Park north of Sixth and the South Lawrence Trafficway intersection to Queens Road. Eventually, the city would like to have a path that runs all the way from the Rock Chalk site to Kasold Drive. The project is in the pedestrian and bicycle category.
• $240,000 to add bike lanes to the portion of Bob Billings Parkway that runs between Wakarusa Drive and about 45 feet west of Foxfire Road. The existing median would be narrowed to make room for the bike lanes. City officials said now would be the time to add bike lanes to the road because the city plans to resurface the road in 2013. The project is in the pedestrian and bicycle category.
All of the projects would require the city to provide local funding equal to 20 percent of the project’s cost. So, for example, the city would need to come up with about $300,000 in local funding, if it were awarded the Santa Fe Depot grant.
Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. tonight at City Hall.
There hasn’t been much news lately about whether the city has a new plan to buy the Santa Fe Depot in East Lawrence, but there is news about the Lawrence woman who has been leading that charge.
Carey Maynard-Moody recently received Amtrak’s Champion of the Rails Award at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. The Champion of the Rails Award is one of the top awards Amtrak gives to citizens who support the idea of rail travel.
Maynard-Moody won the award for her role in founding Depot Redux, a Lawrence citizens group that does everything from providing basic cleaning of the depot to lobbying for the 1950s-era building to be preserved and restored.
The depot certainly has gotten more attention from Amtrak since Maynard-Moody and her group has come on the scene. Recently, Amtrak spent $1.7 million to install a new ADA-compliant platform at the Lawrence station.
“Of my 40 stations, about 20 of them needed platforms,” said John Bueschel, Amtrak’s district manager of stations. “Lawrence would have never had this platform or the new lighting, if it were not for Carey putting the station on the map.”
Passenger numbers at the station have been growing as the station has gotten more attention. In 2007, 3,732 passengers got on or off the train in Lawrence, which stops twice daily at the station. At the end of 2011, the number had grown to 6,608.
City officials also have been taking more notice of the station. Several city commissioners have expressed support for renovating the station — if they can find a low-cost way to do so. Taking ownership of the station wouldn’t be difficult. The Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway owns the station, and has indicated a willingness to sell the building — but not the land it sits upon — for a nominal fee of a dollar or so.
But city officials have expressed concern that once it takes ownership of the building, there will be several repairs that the city won’t be able to avoid. In total, those repairs could run several hundred thousand dollars, and commissioners have been reluctant to own the building without knowing where that money would come from.
Earlier this year, officials with the city’s transit system said the station — which is at Seventh and New Jersey streets — might make a good central station for the city’s bus service. But in July, transit officials recommended against the idea because they said further study revealed the site wasn’t really large enough to accommodate the number of buses that would be the station. Several neighbors also had objected to the plan.
At that point, even some of the stronger supporters on the City Commission said they they’re not sure how the city can justify taking over the building, unless some sort of secondary use is found for it.
“Right now it is used only as a train depot a couple of times during the night,” City Commissioner Aron Cromwell said in July. “The rest of the time it is empty. That is not enough use for us to justify purchasing and maintaining the building.”
At that time, city commissioners basically were hoping somebody from the public would come up with another feasible use for the building, because they didn’t have any off the top of their heads.
That was in July, and waiting for another use to emerge still seems to be where the project is at.