Food trucks line Fifth Street downtown
Food trucks line Fifth Street downtown along PNC Plaza. | Photo by Caitlin Bowling

A Metro Council committee discussed a scaled-back version of amendments to the city’s ordinance regulating food trucks on Tuesday, which would limit such vehicles from reserving more than 25% of meters on a block.

The original amendments to the ordinance first filed in October faced immediate and intense criticism from food truck owners who said they were discriminatory and would put them out of business, as these changes would have prohibited them from operating at parking meters and relegated them to designated “stationary vending zones” to be determined by the Department of Public Works.

However, the ordinance sponsors — council members Brandon Coan, D-8, Barbara Sexton Smith, D-4, Pat Mulvihill, D-10, and Scott Reed, R-16 — pulled several of the contentious amendments from their legislation this summer, hoping to have more success as general cleanup legislation to streamline and simplify existing regulations.

Among the changes in the current version of the proposed ordinance detailed by Coan in the Public Works Committee meeting on Wednesday are requirements for operators to mount generators on their food truck instead of on the ground, in addition to capping the number of trucks that can reserve meters to operate at the same time on one block.

Noting the proposed rule to limit food trucks reservations to no more than 25% of parking meter spaces on both sides of a single block, Councilman Bill Hollander, D-9, stated that this could limit the number of trucks that do heavy business at lunchtime next to the PNC Plaza along Fifth Street downtown. While six or more trucks often line the side of the street with the plaza, Hollander said this ordinance would limit them to five of the 20 meters and asked Coan why that was necessary.

Coan answered that the 25% limit “is in order to ensure sort of equitable access to parking meters at every location where they exist, and especially in the Central Business District where there are really premium parking assets.” He also compared this 25% limit to the existing rules governing loading and unloading zones for trucks in front of buildings.

Hollander said he remained concerned about the need for such a change, as “it does seem to me that we’re limiting the number of trucks that operate successfully at the location… I’m not sure why.”

Councilman Stuart Benson, R-20, also questioned whether the proposed 25% rule was an arbitrary number, wondering why successful businesses needed to be further regulated unless there was a specific problem with food trucks that had been identified.

Leah Stuart, president of the Louisville Food Truck Association. | Photo by Joe Sonka

Leah Stuart, the president of the Louisville Food Truck Association, told reporters after the meeting that the proposed changes remain confusing, adding that “I think most of this ordinance is a solution in search of a problem.” She also stated that the requirement to mount generators onto the food trucks is “a hassle that we don’t think is needed.”

While the proposed changes to the existing food truck ordinance have stalled since last fall and been scaled back from its original form, Stuart said that she and other food truck owners are still concerned that it will advance and negatively affect their livelihoods.

“I think there are a few vocal council members that are pushing this, and it’s up to us to educate and try to persuade people that there’s a simple way to do this,” said Stuart.

The Institute for Justice — the law firm that successfully sued the city last year and forced it to repeal the rule prohibiting food trucks within 150 feet of similar restaurants — issued a news release before the meeting accusing the ordinance sponsors of withholding 8,300 documents related to food trucks and restaurants that it sought in an open records request.

Last month, the Office of the Attorney General issued a decision upholding the council members denial of four items requested by the Institute for Justice, though it also found that one item requested — all communications by members and staff mentioning food trucks, vendors or restaurants over a period of 17 months — was improperly denied and must be fulfilled.

The decision noted that the numbers of documents pulled up from that search would be far less than 8,300, as that number was the council clerk’s original estimate for how many documents would be subject to all five items requested under the open records law.

Coan told Insider Louisville on Wednesday that the council members are not appealing that decision and are in the process of gathering the documents requested by the law firm.

No vote was taken on the food truck ordinance on Wednesday and the Public Works Committee is expected to discuss it again at its next meeting in two weeks.

This story was updated to clarify that the 25% rule regards the number of trucks that can have space reserved at meters, as additional trucks could also park and feed the meters.

Joe Sonka
Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]