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Commission Puts Food Truck Ordinance on Hold

Atlanta's Mix'd Up Burgers at a downtown Athens food truck festival last month that drew 6,000 people.

Photo Credit: Joshua L. Jones/file

Atlanta’s Mix’d Up Burgers at a downtown Athens food truck festival last month that drew 6,000 people.

A proposal to allow food trucks to set up shop downtown one day a week is on hold after brick-and-mortar restaurant owners complained.

The Athens-Clarke County Commission voted 6–5 Tuesday night to hold the ordinance for 30 days while they hear concerns from restaurant owners. Commissioners Jared Bailey, Diane Bell, Sharyn Dickerson, Harry Sims and Allison Wright and Mayor Nancy Denson voted for the delay; commissioners Andy Herod, Mike Hamby, Jerry NeSmith, Melissa Link and Kelly Girtz voted against it because they wanted to pass the ordinance immediately.

The ordinance would allow six food trucks to park around City Hall on a first-come, first-serve bases on Tuesdays for a $200 annual fee.

Restaurant owners told commissioners Tuesday that they didn’t catch wind of the proposal until recently, and they viewed food trucks as unfair competition. Supporters look at food trucks as a less costly way for an entrepreneur to go into business, while brick-and-mortar restaurateurs sometimes resent the lower overhead and property taxes they pay.

Will food trucks will really take business away from restaurants? Herod, for one, was skeptical.

“People who eat at food trucks are going to be a different group of people than people who eat at sit-down restaurants,” he said.

But we do know food trucks are popular: A food truck festival last month organized by the ADDA last month drew 6,000 people—and it also benefited restaurants.

“Not everybody who came to the food truck festival ate at the food trucks,” Hamby said.

He also noted that brick-and-mortar restaurants may want to start their own food trucks. In fact, the current debate was sparked years ago by the owners of the now-closed Farm 255, who had also started Farm Cart (now under new ownership) and wanted to park it downtown.

Restaurateurs’ “we didn’t know” argument didn’t hold water for several commissioners, who noted that the proposal had been discussed in committee meetings for months, and the Athens Downtown Development Authority and Downtown Athens Business Association had reached out to business owners about it.

“I feel like it’s been hashed out very publicly and in the press,” Link said. “I’m sorry folks haven’t kept up with it.”

Others said there’s no harm in waiting a month.

“Maybe they weren’t paying attention,” Dickerson said. “Maybe they were working [at] their businesses. Maybe they didn’t have time.”

Denson instructed Herod, who chairs the commission’s Government Operations Committee, to meet with restaurant owners and hear their concerns.

Although the ordinance has been tabled, easing food-truck regulations seems inevitable. No commissioner expressed outright opposition to the idea Tuesday, and at least eight commissioners are on record supporting food trucks downtown.