City Council members and a local business leader chewed over a proposed definition that would apply to food trucks and trailers selling their mouthwatering fare across Chattanooga.
Next week, the council will consider an ordinance that would amend the city code's policy toward food trucks, which is set to sunset on March 20. In order to be a legally operating food truck, part of the definition requires that a trailer serving as a food truck remain attached to a vehicle at all times.
Kim White, president and CEO of River City Company, took issue with the provision. White said that if food trailers had to remain linked to vehicles, it could be "problematic."
"It looks messy," White said. "It just doesn't make for a good food court."
White said Chattanooga was seeking to model its food truck scene after other cities such as Seattle and Austin, Texas. In the spring and summer, several food trucks gather together in areas like Miller Plaza, where space is premium.
"We've not had any issues," she said.
City Administrator of Public Works Steve Leach expressed concerns that if food trailers were dropped without a truck, they could be left in an area indefinitely. Leach said that a lack of guidelines for food trucks had sometimes led to impromptu "little outdoor festivals," which got their attention.
"That became a health and safety issue from our perspective," Leach said. "When you get to trailers, you've just hit a different market. That's my perspective on it."
Councilman Jack Benson asked if the food truck scene had caused an impact on nearby brick-and-mortar restaurants.
"Do the people who work downtown like this?" he asked.
White said all of her tenants had been happy with the addition of food trucks to the downtown lunch hour. Councilman Andraé McGary added to White's comment, saying he had seen pedestrians approach a food truck, scan the menu and then choose to eat elsewhere.
"They still make a decision," McGary said.
Councilman Russell Gilbert asked if unattended food trucks might cause a blight to surrounding areas of downtown.
"Would that cause a sore thumb?" Gilbert asked.
"We're not going to have any trashy food trucks," White said. "They're highly regulated."
Language of the ordinance could change before it goes back to the council for a vote next week. Several council members also hinted that they might prefer to defer the ordinance to give city administrators and business leaders more time to sort out the issue.