Chattanooga City Council members spent the bulk of their Tuesday agenda session and meeting discussing whether food vendors operating out of trailers should be allowed to remove the truck that pulled the trailer to the place where it is selling its fare.
The council voted 9-0 to approve the first reading of an ordinance related to the City Code's guidelines for food trucks, which was set to sunset on March 20. The ordinance defines a "mobile food unit" as any motorized vehicle or trailer attached to a motorized vehicle.
The key word in the discussion regarding the ordinance was "attached." As written, the new ordinance states that trailers should remain "attached to its towing vehicle at all times."
City Public Works Administrator Steve Leach said during the council's agenda session that his department had become "a little apprehensive" about trailers operating as mobile food units. Leach said he wanted to prevent trailers from "nesting" in areas overnight.
"When you start dropping these trailers, they become very permanent," Leach said.
Leach repeatedly emphasized that food trucks in Chattanooga had been successful and that his department had no desire to "kill" any development in the market. Leach said the stipulations in the ordinance were "very specific."
The City Council and Department of Public Works administrators will likely be in discussion with local food vendors this week to determine the best way to move forward before holding a vote on the final reading of the ordinance next week.
The council heard from Dorris Shober, owner of Lupi's Pizza, who said that her company had moved to a food trailer after complying with state law that required them to relocate their operations from a tent to an enclosed unit.
"The only way we could stay was to get an enclosed trailer," Shober said. "We purchased one for $30,000 in order to continue going to the [Chattanooga Market]."
Chris Thomas, executive director of the Chattanooga Market, also told council members that food vendors operating out of trailers were critical to the market's success.
"We had 14 venders at the market last year; only two were self-propelled," Thomas said.
Councilman Peter Murphy said that any changes in the ordinance regarding food vendors would not likely impact vendors operating out of trailers at special events such as the Chattanooga Market. Murphy said events like the market fell under a stipulation of the resolution that exempted "special events" from having to comply.
"You have a special event because you're closing the road," Murphy said. "The trailers are going to be able to drop at Chattanooga Market; that's not going to change."
The council will consider the resolution for final reading next week.