Food truck rules debated tonight

Outdoor seating, grease disposal in question

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Philippe Riviere prepares a savory crepe for a customer Monday, Sept. 29, 2014 during his shift at the food truck crepe vendor Coeur de Breizh. The city is considering a mobile food truck ordinance.

COEUR d’ALENE — After two years of research, Coeur d’Alene city staff members drafted seven pages of rules they would like the council to consider using to regulate food trucks.

The proposed rules will be presented to the City Council today at 6 p.m. in the Community Room at the Coeur d’Alene Public Library. The council will hear public comment early during the meeting.

Kathy Lewis, deputy city clerk, said the effort to regulate food trucks started nearly two years ago when the city received complaints from brick-and-mortar restaurant owners saying food trucks don't have to follow the same regulations they do.

Several city departments also had some worries about the recent mobile food truck proliferation in Coeur d’Alene.

“The wastewater department had some concerns about grease being dumped down storm drains,” Lewis said. “And some people were just dumping their gray water out on the ground.”

Lewis said the fire department had issues with some of the things it observed, like propane tanks stored by barbecues, and the planning department wants to make sure parking requirements are properly enforced.

The proposed rules require all food vendors to possess a valid Idaho seller’s permit, provide adequate trash containers, and secure a sign permit if an A-frame sign is to be used.

If passed, all concessions may operate only in a commercial zone unless otherwise specified. Each concession, and the property on which it operates, must meet all current applicable codes, including but not limited to building, fire, vehicle, electrical, plumbing, and planning. If the concession is the only use on the property, the lot must meet commercial design guidelines.

The proposed regulation also creates five different classes of food trucks.

The rules also require facilities for workers and the public to wash their hands.

According to the draft, disposal of wastewater must be done through a cleanout on site. If no cleanout on site is available, an alternate method of disposal must be approved by the wastewater department prior to issuance of the permit.

The method of grease disposal must be approved by the wastewater department and a grease interceptor may be required.

The vendor must schedule a safety inspection by the Coeur d’Alene Fire Department and meet the criteria on the mobile vendor safety sheet. If tents will be used, the vendor must obtain a tent permit from the fire department.

And finally no outside seating is allowed unless the property has permanent restroom facilities. Then the vendor may have seating upon compliance with applicable building, wastewater, and planning codes.

Lewis said these are some of the requirements that brick-and-mortar restaurants have to comply with to do business in Coeur d’Alene. She said the proposed regulations are just a starting point for the City Council to consider.

City Councilman Woody McEvers, who owns Rustler’s Roost Restaurant and Woodman Catering, said he had not read the new regulations as of Monday afternoon.

“I support these mobile guys and I don’t want to write any new regulations for anyone,” McEvers said. “But what about us restaurant guys who have to pay the full rate?”

McEvers said a lot of the food trucks are becoming stationary like latte stands and restaurants, but they are not being held to the same rules and regulations those businesses have to adhere to.

“Look at the espresso guys; those rules are changing all of the time,” he said. “The mobile guys are great, but when they stay in one spot for extended periods of time, how is that different?”

McEvers said he expects the issue to get a little messy, but he said there must be a way to provide a level playing field for everyone involved.

“After all, I have to pay for grassy swales, parking, bathrooms, landscaping, you name it,” he said. “It will be interesting to see all of the input on this issue.”

McEvers said he is confident that something can be worked out.

“This is our first time looking at this,” he said. “I don't think there will be any decision from the council (tonight).”

Travis Whiteside, owner of the Rawdeadfish sushi truck that sits in a parking lot at 510 E. Best Ave., said if the proposed rules passed as-is, it would devastate his business.

“First of all we don’t have a direct line for sewage,” he said. “And the no outside seating is ridiculous.”

Whiteside said his landlord just put in more outside seating and parking to improve the food court that has developed in that parking lot over the past three years. If that seating is removed, he wonders where his customers are going to eat.

“Are they going to be allowed to sit in their cars and eat?” he asked. “They are basically making it to where nobody will be able to do this anymore.”

Heather Riviere, owner of Coeur de Breizh Crepes on Government Way, also has some of the same concerns with the proposed regulations. But she also said some regulation is probably needed.

“When I set up my truck, I had questions that nobody can answer,” she said. “Questions like where can I park; plumbing and electricity questions. Stuff that nobody had answers for.”

She said the definitions of the five new vending categories are also confusing. The categories limit the amount of time the vendor can be in that location. The longest duration is 180 days in the same spot.

Lewis said that is to help define the difference between a mobile food vendor, and permanent food vendor like an espresso shop.

“If they are going to stay later than 180 days then maybe they should be treated like an espresso stand,” she said, adding the 180-day permit is for seasonal vendors that just set up in the summer.

Riviere considers that arbitrary, but she did have good things to say about the way the city is going about establishing the ordinance.

“The city has been transparent with all of this,” she said. “The city is working with us and asked for input from the very beginning.”

She said a lot of the regulations stem from the downtown business community not being food-truck-friendly. She suspects the fact that downtown restaurants have to pay for outdoor seating is driving the rules for no outdoor seating for food trucks.

“If they want to discourage mobile food trucks downtown, that is fine,” she said. “But not letting us have seating is not encouraging the development of food courts outside the downtown area.”

Both Whiteside and Riviere are planning to attend the meeting tonight.

“I might have to close a little early,” Whiteside said. “But I am sure going to try and make it."

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