By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
The food truck discussions in Bowling Green may be cookin’ but they are still far from complete. During the seven meetings held so far on the topic, there’s been talk about peeling back the layers of an onion, putting meat on the bone, taking the issue off the back burner, and peppering the ordinance with certain language.
Yet, the food truck issue remains simmering in a slow cooker.
“It’s just the nature of Bowling Green to be cautious,” said City Council member Sandy Rowland, who is working with council members Bill Herald and John Zanfardino on the food truck regulations.
But time is running out if the city wants food trucks to operate in the community this summer.
“I think seven meetings is an awful long time,” Rowland said during last week’s food truck meeting.
Rowland suggested that an ordinance be drafted by the city attorney and presented at next week’s City Council meeting. But Herald balked at that idea.
“We’ve been meticulous, we’ve been balanced,” Herald said, urging his two fellow committee members to resist rushing to the finish line before the ordinance is ready.
The varying work styles of committee members became even more apparent last week, with Herald referring to his 168-page report, and Rowland presenting a one and a half page draft permit for food truck vendors.
“I’m hoping we can do something to attract them before 2019,” Zanfardino said, with some frustration. “I believe in the benefit they bring to the entire city.”
But Zanfardino echoed Rowland’s description. “Bowling Green is very cautious and very slow to move,” he said.
During last week’s meeting, like the six before, the council committee members listened to concerns from food truck vendors, brick and mortar restaurant owners, and citizens.
Max Hayward questioned why the food truck proposal did not allow vendors to set up anywhere along Main or Wooster streets in the downtown area. He called that an “unnecessarily restrictive rule” that could doom food trucks to failure.
Bowling Green is being “needlessly conservative and cautious,” Hayward said.
Phil Barone, who owns a food truck and the restaurant, Rosie’s Italian Grille, said hiding food vendors will not work. “Food trucks need to be seen,” he said.
But Herald said there is not enough room and too much traffic to allow food trucks in the area of the downtown four corners.
“One of the main things we have to be concerned about is safety,” he said.
Owner of the Qdoba restaurant on South Main Street downtown, Nadya Shihadeh, suggested that food trucks not be allowed to set up too close to restaurants that are “paying the taxes, paying the rent.”
“I would still be OK with food vendors parking out back, but I don’t want it right in front of my store,” Shihadeh said. “It’s been hard to make it in the downtown as a restaurant owner.”
Zanfardino said some cities have no distance requirements for food trucks, and others require them to set up at least 1,000 feet away from a restaurant, which is “ludicrous,” he said.
Hayward said allowing the food trucks in the downtown will bring customers to the area and help other businesses as well.
Citizen Ann Beck said the food trucks could keep local residents from heading out of town for dining opportunities. “Nobody wants to put restaurants out of business,” she said.
Barone said local food truck owners don’t set up right in front of restaurants.
“I would never do that, nor would anyone in my association,” he said. “That’s just tacky.”
Barone also stressed that food trucks serve from the passenger side, next to sidewalks, not into the street.
Another citizen, Sara Ghaffari, said she didn’t understand the animosity from restaurant owners toward mobile food vendors. She moved here six years ago as a student, and has considered starting up a food truck business.
“I was shocked there were no food trucks in this town,” she said, adding that the city might have more entrepreneurs if it supported such efforts.
“Bowling Green has a very negative reputation for food trucks,” Barone said. “I graduated from here. I have a special love for it.”
Rowland agreed that food truck options could attract young residents and students. “It’s going to help us grow and bring in millennials,” she said.
Some of those present suggested that the best time for food trucks in downtown might be late night, when most of the brick and mortar restaurants are closed, but the bars are still open.
That could be a “bounty of business,” said Garrett Jones, owner of Reverend’s.
Others agreed, calling 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. at “sweet spot” for food trucks downtown. Food trucks would give students an option rather than hitting Taco Bell on their way back to campus, someone said.
Both Herald’s report and Rowland’s draft permit can be viewed on the city’s website. The permit covers such issues as locations, permit fees, vendor licenses, signage, liability insurance, and income tax registration.