Lawrence commission split on idea of paving way for food trucks

A plan to make it easier for food trucks to operate across Lawrence has hit a bump in the road at City Hall.

Commissioners on Tuesday evening were split on the idea of new regulations that would allow food trucks to set up more permanent operations in a host of parking lots across the city. Commissioners said they wanted an additional two weeks to consider new regulations that would remove a rule that prohibits food trucks from operating for more than three hours a day in Lawrence.

“There will be competitive issues that arise from this,” said Commissioner Bob Schumm, who is a retired restaurant owner. “If I have a brick-and-mortar store, I’m probably paying about $25,000 in property taxes. A food truck comes in and sells basically the same thing and has taxes of probably $2,000 to $3,000. I think it is a very unfair situation.”

Commissioner Terry Riordan also said he has concerns about the competitive issues and other unintended consequences from the ordinance. But Commissioners Mike Dever and Jeremy Farmer both rejected the idea that the city should try to restrict food trucks because they may be too much of a competitive force for traditional restaurants. Both said they thought food trucks served a different market than the sit-down restaurant crowd.

“I don’t think it is the type of thing that is going to drive a brick-and-mortar business out of business,” Dever said. “It may actually bring more people to a location. I don’t think it is our job to limit competition. I think that would be a bad precedent for us.”

Mayor Mike Amyx said he supported parts of the new regulations, but may want some language that would limit multiple food trucks from inundating an area.

As proposed, the regulations would allow food trucks to locate in the privately-owned parking lots of many commercially zoned properties in the city. The food truck operators would have to receive permission from the property’s owners and would have to file for a site plan at City Hall, which would examine parking requirements and a host of safety issues related to the site. If approved, the food trucks would not be subject to the current restriction of operating no more than three hours in a day.

Commissioners were told the new regulations would spark new innovations in the food service industry. Tom Larkin, an executive with the group that is developing the Warehouse Arts District in East Lawrence, said his company wants to create a “food truck garden” at the southwest corner of Eight and Pennsylvania street on property it owns. The project would create permanent pad sites for multiple food trucks, and even would include an area where food truck operators could have their own herb or vegetable gardens.

“The interest level in food trucks is very high in Lawrence right now,” Larkin said. “We’re a college town and a cultural hub, and that goes hand in hand with food trucks.”

Commissioners will look at the proposed food truck regulations again at their Sept. 2 meeting.

In other news, commissioners:

• Approved the necessary permits for the Bike MS event to be located in downtown’s South Park on Sept. 13-14. The event is expected to attract about 2,000 bicycle riders to the park as part of a fundraiser for the Midwest Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. This will be the fourth year for the event to be hosted in Lawrence. Riders will travel from Garmin International’s headquarters in Olathe to Lawrence on Saturday, spend the night in Lawrence and then ride back on Sunday. South Park will host a variety of music, fun zones, a beer garden and other events open to both riders and the general public.