Food trucks get green light in 'pilot' Champaign plan

Food trucks get green light in 'pilot' Champaign plan

CHAMPAIGN — City officials will allow food trucks to operate in select areas in downtown Champaign and Campustown this summer as they figure out how to accommodate the mobile restaurants in the future.

They are calling it a "pilot project," and part of the goal is to gather information to give to city council members when they consider more permanent regulations for food trucks during a meeting on June 26.

"Interest in mobile food trucks has grown significantly in recent years, and cities across the nation are trying to accommodate them as best as possible," said Assistant Planning Director Rob Kowalski.

The existing city ordinance treats food trucks as peddlers — meaning if they want to operate on public property, they have to move to a different location every five minutes or so.

They are allowed to operate on private property as long as the land is zoned to accommodate them.

But under the pilot project, food trucks will be able to operate on public property in four downtown areas and three Campustown zones. They can stay for up to two hours at a time per location, and most locations will be available for vending from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily. Some locations will be limited to evening hours only.

No one has signed up yet, Kowalski said, as the city just launched the project this week. He said he knows of several food trucks that have expressed interest, though, and suspects they will sign up soon. Participants will need to pay for a $50 license and a $25 application fee.

Several food trucks already operate in the Champaign-Urbana area, including Derald's, Hawaiian Ice, Mas Amigos and the Crave truck.

Mayor Don Gerard said he thinks the idea of food trucks is "fantastic." He pointed to places like the San Francisco bay area and Austin where he believes they are immensely popular.

"It's a fantastically popular part of the cultural and culinary landscape," Gerard said.

Cleaning up the language in the city ordinance to accommodate, Gerard said, has been "in the hopper for a long time." He said a city council discussion on the topic had been initiated last year, but it was delayed by other priorities until food trucks started receiving more attention recently.

The pilot project will serve two purposes, Kowalski said. It accommodates vendors that want to operate this summer, and it allows the city to "kick the tires" on what might become a more permanent food truck market.

Gerard said food trucks can add another layer of vibrancy to Champaign.

"It turns a park into a party," he said.

On the Web: For maps of where the food trucks are expected to be this summer, visit the city's website at https://bit.ly/KvFeBs.

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