City officials want to regulate food trucks
BY BERNARD HARRIS, Staff Writer
Lancaster city officials are attempting to draw a fine line between encouraging new business development and supporting established businesses.
And that line runs right along the edge of city streets.
The city hopes to soon begin regulating the food trucks that have sprung up in Lancaster in recent years.
As in other cities, food trucks have been showing up in Lancaster offering fare as varied as cupcakes, souvlaki, falafel, spring rolls and angus beef burgers.
But nearly all of them are not permitted under city ordinances, said Randy Patterson, director of the city's Economic Development & Neighborhood Revitalization department.
Current city ordinances forbid food vendors along city streets in the public right of way. Only one, Urban Olive, has a permit to operate in Lancaster Square. Two competing hot dog carts also have permits to operate in Penn Square, and do so in warmer months.
Patterson, who briefed city councilmembers Monday night, said the ordinance is enforced in the city's downtown, the Central Business District. It is not enforced in other parts of the city unless there are complaints, he said.
Frequently, the trucks park near Lancaster General Hospital and Franklin & Marshall College. They also can operate on private property, a parking lot, for example, he said.
Since fall, Patterson has been working on an ordinance revision that would allow and regulate the trucks. Those regulations could restrict where the trucks could operate and the hours of operation. They also would attempt to control noise, odor and trash created by the trucks.
"As it has become a growing industry -- I think we have 12 in the city -- we felt it was something that needs to be regulated," he said.
It is a complicated task, Patterson said. Some food vendors use trucks and some use trailers; some are self-contained operations and others are not.
All must be inspected by city health officers and comply with the same food safety regulations as brick-and-mortar establishments.
Patterson said he wants to foster the new businesses, yet he also wants to protect the interests of traditional restaurants.
He said he has been in discussions with both groups.
"We're trying to be balanced," he told councilmembers.
Michael Kambouroglos, who operates the Souvlaki Boys truck with his cousin, Pete Alexopoulos, praised Patterson for being open to the concerns of truck operators.
"We don't want to step on any toes, but we want to be respected as a legitimate business," Kambouroglos said.
In two weeks, Kambouroglos will return on alternate days to spots near Lancaster General Hospital and F&M. He'd like to have a regular location -- particularly one downtown, where the most people are -- so his customers would know where to find him.
"What makes food trucks successful is volume," he said.
Patterson said some truck operators would like to be downtown late on weekend nights, after restaurants have closed their kitchens. Some bar owners, however, have said that would impinge on their food sales.
A draft ordinance is expected to be presented to council next month. It will likely be debated at public meetings in May, he said.
Kambouroglos said one thing is certain: "Food trucks are here to stay. It's not a trend."