Houghton considers food truck ordinance

HOUGHTON — As food trucks grow in popularity, Houghton is laying down rules for how they can operate.

The city council scheduled a public hearing for June 14 on a proposed food truck ordinance, and a related ordinance setting fees. The planning commission informally recommended the council approve the ordinance at its meeting Tuesday.

The city is aiming to diversify food options to the city and create new business opportunities, while also not giving the trucks an unfair edge against brick-and-mortar locations, according to the ordinance.

During previous planning commission discussions about the trucks, restaurant owners had worried vendors nearby would cut into their business.

On city-owned property, food trucks would need a license from the city, which could be issued on a monthly or annual basis.

Mobile food vendors in a city-controlled parking space can only stay there 16 hours within a 24-hour period. License conditions include restricting business hours to between 8 a.m. and midnight, and not providing any dining space within 10 feet of the truck.

Food trucks would also pay fees depending on how long they operate. A special event permit is $50. A truck can also get a three-month permit for $200; those are capped at once per year for each vendor. A one-year food truck permit is $500, versus $100 for a cart.

The city council will determine which public lands vendors can use on in a separate resolution.

City Manager Eric Waara provided a map with seven city-owned spots in the downtown and along the waterfront that would provide space without being too close to brick-and-mortar restaurants.

“Right now we’d like to limit that to down by the water, closer to downtown, as opposed to remote locations throughout the city because most if not all of the interest we’ve had so far has been for the core area of town,” he said.

One of those spots is the pier, where someone’s already asked about bringing a food truck down periodically, Waara said.

Others include the Kestner Waterfront Park parking lot, the Grace United Methodist Church lot and the future Lakeshore Drive social district.

Food trucks can also operate on private property in business or industrial districts. Like restaurants, they would not require a separate city license.

Events such as Bridgefest or Jibba Jabba would be able to obtain a single temporary license allowing multiple food vendors on the site.

The Planning Commission backed the idea.

“It seems very comprehensive,” said Planning Commissioner Kristine Bradof. “I didn’t see anything that looks like it would be an issue or anything that had been overlooked.”

Planning Commission Chair Tom Merz said the ordinance is in line with similar ordinances from Duluth, Sault Ste. Marie, Marquette and Traverse City.

“I’m not one for picking winners and losers,” he said. “When people say ‘Do we need another pizza shop?’, my answer always is, ‘We’re going to find out.” Do we need food trucks? We’re going to find out.”


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