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Food Trucks in the City of Portsmouth, Virginia

Food Truck Informational Session 7.17.13 - Meeting Summary

At the March 12, 2013 City Council meeting a request was made by a non-agenda speaker to allow "Food Trucks" to operate within the City of Portsmouth boundaries. 

The City Council has tasked the Planning Department with examining the pros and cons of Mobile Eating Establishments also known as the Food Trucks.

The objective of this report is to study this request in light of existing regulations, history of approval within the City, and trends and issues on many levels.  After studying the many issues connected with the activity, staff will provide City Council a recommendation on whether to allow Food Trucks in Portsmouth. 

During hearings across the nation on proposed Food Truck regulations, discussions included the following issues:

  1. permit availability,
  2. sanitation concerns,
  3. proximity to restaurant storefronts,
  4. impacts food trucks have on the neighborhoods they are serving,
  5. need for restrooms,
  6. insurance requirements,
  7. the quantity of permits allowed, 
  8. appearance requirements,
  9. possible traffic jams,
  10. potential of blocking sidewalks,
  11. which city department will regulate,
  12. crime

The main purpose of regulations is to strike a balance between allowing food trucks to operate and protecting the public and other businesses.
If the average American was told five years ago that he could nab a delicious and buttery lobster roll from a truck without getting food poisoning, he may have scoffed. Nowadays, chefs across the world are delivering some of the most amazing fun food straight to the sidewalks — and social streams.

Food trucks seem to be on the streets in all urban areas. These kitchens on wheels accounted for 37% of the $1.4 billion in street vending revenue nationwide last year -- a 15% increase over the past five years, according to researcher IBISWorld Inc. The rapidly growing fleet of trucks has local municipalities nationwide scrambling to regulate the industry, citing concerns about the large crowds, noise and mess they sometimes create.  This trend is driven not only by the food industry's desire to provide new and innovative dining options, but by individuals' desire to achieve economic independence.

Although food trucks existed well before the early 2000s, many sources pinpoint 2008 as the unofficial onset of the food truck phenomenon.  Since then, food truck entrepreneurs and chefs alike have used social media to familiarize the world with previously obscure flavors.  While the unofficial start of the current phase is 2008, food trucks have been around for hundreds of years.  The vehicles over the years are called many things: chuck wagons, mobile kitchens, mobile catering, roach coaches, grease wagons, and of course the current name: food trucks.  The following is a timeline highlighting a few dates in the evolution of the food truck. 
1691 – New Amsterdam (now known as New York City) begins regulating street vendors selling food from push carts.
1850’s – Dining cars begin feeding cross country train passengers.
1866 – The Chuck wagon is invented by Charles Goodnight to feed cattlemen and wagon trains traversing the old West.

chuckwagon - history of food trucks
1917 – The US Army mobile canteens (field kitchens) begin to feed the troops.
1950’s – Ice cream trucks begin selling their frozen treats.
1974 - Raul Martinez converted an old ice cream truck into the nation’s first taco truck and parked it outside of an East Los Angeles bar.
November 2008 – Kogi BBQ hit the streets of Los Angeles selling Asian infused tacos.
May 2010 – National Restaurant Association dedicates 1,500 square feet to food truck exhibits at its annual convention in Chicago.
September 2010 – The US government adds “Tips for Starting Your Own Street Food Business” to its small business website www.business.gov.   
November 2010 – Los Angeles starts ranking food trucks with letter grades like restaurants.
As stated at the beginning of this section street food has been available to Americans for several hundred years, and food trucks have been serving up tasty treats for over two decades, so the basic concept is nothing new. Yet, as you can see, the food truck has taken on new meaning as the mobile food industry continues to morph.

Current Portsmouth Regulations
The Zoning Ordinance for the City of Portsmouth prohibits Vehicular Mobile Food Vendors (Food Trucks), but does allow food sales from pushcarts in the Downtown area only.  The following sections provides applicable regulations to the Food Truck Industry from the City Code.

Zoning Ordinance

40.1-4.5(C) Prohibited Temporary Uses
Without limiting the standards of this Ordinance, the following activities are prohibited in all districts:

(1) Retail or Display of Goods, Products, or Services in Public Right-of-Way
Retail sales or display of goods, products, or services within the public right-of-way except as part of an authorized not-for-profit, special, or city-recognized event or within the Downtown D1 or D2 districts.

(2) Retail Sales or Display of Goods From Vehicles
Except as part of a permitted seasonal sale, retail sales or display of goods, products, or
services from a motor vehicle, trailer, or shipping container.

Portsmouth Health Department General Criteria: Mobile Vendors and Push Carts

City Code Sec.15.1 Food and Food Establishments
Article III. Mobile Food Establishments

While the Zoning Ordinance does not permit mobile food trucks, this section of the Code addresses the permit process, tracking, commissary and food sales requirements for mobile food establishments.

Food Trucks are considered mobile food preparation units, which include mobile vendor units and push carts, and are vehicles used for a variety of food preparation activities. These units must operate daily from a commissary in order to facilitate cleaning and servicing operations, food storage and renewal of supplies. This includes the flushing and draining of liquid waste to an approved sewerage system and water servicing equipment that is approved. A commissary is a location designed for the sanitary storage and servicing needs of the mobile units. Approved commissaries hold valid health permits and receive regular inspections. The vendor shall obtain written permission authorizing their use of the appropriate commissary and shall provide that to the health department. In order to promote the safe and sanitary handling of food these mobile units are inspected, as are their commissaries. They may be limited in what they can offer due to equipment restrictions. Mobile Vendors and Pushcarts are required to also purchase a tracking decal, which needs to be revalidated each year. They may be restricted to particular areas in the city due to land use and zoning requirements.

City Code Sec. 32-172. - Definitions.
Mobile vending unit means a movable cart or vehicle that is operated from a fixed location and which may be moved without the assistance of a motor and which is not required to be licensed and registered by the division of motor vehicles used for the displaying, storing or transporting of articles offered for sale by a vendor (applies to non-mobilized push carts in the D1 and D2 Districts).

Current Regional Regulations
The City of Hampton is the only other Hampton Roads city besides the City of Portsmouth that does not allow food trucks.

It is important to remember that in each locality a number of different names are used for food trucks. These labels include Mobile Venders, Mobile Eateries, Mobile Food Vendors and Peddlers.

Those localities that permit food trucks allow their operations if a number of specific conditions are met.  The following are the specific conditions imposed by localities in Hampton Roads:

City of Newport News

  1. provide its own trash receptacle,
  2. not use a loudspeaker or amplified music or lighting/illumination to attract the public,
  3. conspicuously display issued licenses and permits,
  4. not exceed the dimensions of 4 feet wide, 12 feet long and 8 feet in height,
  5. remain 30 feet from another vendor, entrance/exit of building or gate or street intersection,
  6. can operate outside the gate of the Newport News Shipyard if they meet the aforementioned regulations.
  7. cannot operate in areas stated in Code Section 225, which are streets the city staff deems as “unsuitable or unsafe.”

City of Norfolk

  1. Mobile food vendors, with proper licensing, are limited to a location for no more than one hour within a 24 hour period, and
  2. are prohibited from Norfolk’s downtown area.

City of Suffolk

  1. Mobile food vendors are allowed in non-residential districts.
  2. This regulation allows for a location on public property (with permission from the City), on-street, on private property (as permitted by zoning regulations and with permission from the property owner).
  3. The mobile food vendor must comply with the parking regulations and provide adequate off-street parking for customers.

City of Virginia Beach

  1. Mobile food vendors are prohibited from the following Resort Tourist Districts (RT-1, RT-3 or RT-4) and the Oceanfront Resort District.
  2. Mobile food vendors may operate on public property (with the permission from the City), which includes the boardwalk, city-owned and operated facilities and parks, and on private property (with the permission of the owner).
  3. Issued permits carry conditions that require the vendor to provide for various aspects such as waste disposal,
  4. noise reduction, and
  5. crowd/customer control.

Current State Regulations
The Commonwealth has several sections that allow localities the option of creating regulations that govern this industry. 

§ 15.2-2200. Declaration of legislative intent.
This chapter is intended to encourage localities to improve the public health, safety, convenience and welfare of its citizens

§ 15.2-2015. Use of streets, etc., for transportation and utilities; removal and alteration of facilities and equipment; permits and charges.
Any city or town may provide for the issuance of permits, under such terms and conditions as they may impose, for the use of streets, highways, roads, alleys, bridges, viaducts, subways and underpasses and other public rights-of-way

12 VAC 5-421-30. Purpose.
This chapter has been promulgated by the State Board of Health to specify requirements to protect public health.

§ 15.2-1109. Milk, food and food products.
A municipal corporation may regulate and inspect the production, preparation, storage, distribution and sale of milk and milk products, and other beverages, and food and food products, and the sanitation of establishments in which the same are produced, prepared, processed, handled, distributed, sold or offered for sale, and facilities, equipment and vehicles used for such purposes


Current National and Trends Regulations
The following is an abbreviated list of Cities that allow Food Trucks under varying conditions:

  1. Greenville SC
  2. Asheville NC
  3. Austin TX
  4. Boston MA
  5. Denver CO
  6. Durham NC
  7. Hoboken NJ
  8. Honolulu HI
  9. Los Angeles CA
  10. Madison WI
  11. Miami FL
  12. Minneapolis MN
  13. Portland OR
  14. San Francisco CA
  15. Seattle WA
  16. St. Louis MO

Food truck operators must comply with a variety of regulations. Not surprisingly, food truck operators are typically subject to a variety of state and local health and food safety regulations including (1) approval of food truck design, (2) approval for in-truck cooking equipment/configuration, (3) vending permits, (4) requirement for food truck personnel to obtain food safety certification, (5) periodic health inspections and (6) food safety requirements for depots where food stocks are replenished. More controversial, however, are local regulations that dictate how, where and when food trucks can sell food. These types of sale regulations include:

Public Property Bans. More than 10 major cities ban vending on public property, such as on streets and sidewalks. Vendors subject to such bans must contract with private property owners to vend on their property.

Restricted Zones. Many cities restrict the areas in which food trucks may operate. Restricted zones often include potentially lucrative areas, such as downtown commercial districts.

Proximity Bans. Proximity bans limit how close street vendors can park to certain types of businesses, typically brick-and-mortar restaurants. Proximity bans address the complaints of certain businesses who do not wish to have food trucks park near their place of business. Competing eateries argue the trucks steal customers and, due to their lack of overhead, are able to undercut prices, according to a report by Technomic, a food industry research firm. While it's unclear how much bricks-and-mortar restaurants may be losing to food trucks, the industry recently launched a campaign against the trucks, citing poor food safety, among other issues. "There's been a lot of resistance from the restaurant association," says Kristi Whitfield, co-owner of the Curbside Cupcakes truck in Washington D.C.

Many restaurant and food truck owners, however, say they welcome the competition, adding it should be up to the customer to decide which food establishments stay on the block. And studies show the food trucks pose the biggest threat to fast-food and quick-service restaurants, not traditional sit-down eateries. Some 54% of consumers surveyed by Technomic last year said if they had not bought at a food truck, they would have likely gone to a quick-service restaurant instead. Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research for the National Restaurant Association, which represents some food truck owners, says the mobile vendors are a viable way to sell food and a laboratory for aspiring restaurateurs to test the appetite for niche recipes.

Stop-and-Wait Restrictions (Ice Cream Truck Rules). A handful of cities make it illegal for food trucks to stop and park in order to wait for customers. Instead, food trucks must be flagged down by a customer before they can park and serve the customer. Stop-and-wait restrictions make it difficult for food trucks to establish regular stops and develop relationships with customers.

Duration Restrictions. Food trucks that are allowed to stop and wait for customers may be limited in the amount of time they can remain in one spot. For instance, in Chicago, a food truck may not sell food for more than two hours on any one block.


Health Concerns
Regulators for the most part require mobile food vendors to have hot and cold running water, a refrigerator, and a way to dispose of waste properly, but some specific rules can differ. In Los Angels, food trucks must also park within 200 feet of a bathroom where workers can wash their hands. In Southern Nevada, all food handlers must be certified in food safety, but in some cities only part of the staff must be certified. In New York City, restaurants are given letter grades following health inspections, but not food trucks. In L.A., the trucks also get graded.

Regulators say most of the problems arise when truck operators illegally prepare and store food at home, where health inspectors can't go. In most cities, food must be cooked directly on the truck or in a commercial kitchen that is inspected at least once a year.

Virginia Department of Health requires trucks to return to a commissary every day to dump liquids and be cleaned.  The Rules Governing the Sanitation of Restaurants and Other
Food Handling Establishments is the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Board of Health Food Regulations and is available at http://www.vdh.virginia.gov. These rules cover Administrative Requirements, Personal Hygiene Requirements, Food Sanitation Requirements, Cleaning and Sanitizing Requirements, and General Food Protection. 

General Issues
As mentioned previously, the main purpose of regulations is to strike a balance between allowing food trucks/on-wheels eateries to operate and protecting the public and other businesses.  The following is a listing of the issues that must be studied and addressed if regulations are to be created that allow “Food Trucks” to operate in the City of Portsmouth:

  • Food trucks vs. Push Carts
  • Flashing lights, allow or prohibit?
  • Customer seating, allow or prohibit?
  • Parking
    • private
    • public property
  • Noise
    • generators
    • music, allow or prohibit?
  • Proximity to brick and mortar businesses--prohibit within a certain distance and how is that distance measured
  • Safety/traffic impacts
    • blocking of sidewalks
    • blocking of streets
    • use of parking spaces
  • Proximity to government property/schools/churches
  • Consistency in all regulations
  • Confusion in terminology
  • Sanitation/trash
    • restrooms, require?
    • trash cans, require?
    • grease-laden waters, where are they allowed to be emptied?
  • Permitting
    • who is the lead department
    • limit on number of Food trucks?
    • hours of operation?
    • separate permits for on public property vs. private property?

Staff Recommendation
Staff recommends that the regulations for the City of Portsmouth be made more flexible and that City Council direct staff to prepare draft regulations to:

Address Mobile Food Vendors on private property under certain conditions
Address Mobile Food Vendors on public property under certain conditions
Address Mobile Food Vendors on public right-of-ways under certain conditions

Next Steps

  1. City Council decides to be more flexible in regards to Food Trucks
  1. City Council instructs the City Manager to create a Mobile Food Task force that consists of the following or their designee:
    • Planning Director
    • Zoning Administrator
    • Police Chief
    • Health Director
    • Commissioner of Revenue
    • City Engineer
    • Member of the mobile food industry
    • Member of Olde Towne Business Association
    • Member of Military
  1. City Council directs the Planning Commission with the assistance of the Mobile Food Task force to study the matter and return with proposed regulations. 


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