CHAMPAIGN — Mobile food trucks could be a common sight in the downtown and Campustown areas at least until next summer.
There was no doubt on Tuesday night that there is an interest in expanding Champaign's food-truck market as the city council extended the pilot program for nine months past the Aug. 31 date on which it was supposed to end, as well as the hours during which the mobile vendors may operate.
But as far as tangible permits, to this point, only one has been issued.
"It's not like we had 30 trucks at the city limits waiting to come in and we opened the gates," said Assistant Planning Director Rob Kowalski. "There's a process here."
Three weeks into the city's "pilot program," and only one truck, the street-waffle-selling Crave Truck, has signed up.
Others have expressed interest in obtaining a permit to sell food out of trucks on public property in designated locations, Kowalski said. It is not yet clear if they will pursue the venture.
But council members on Tuesday said they recognize the trend is growing and want to give the market an extended trial before making a permanent allowance.
"This is what progressive communities are going to see more and more of, and I think we fit nicely with that," said council member Paul Faraci.
However, he cautioned against putting off established "brick-and-mortar" restaurants.
"We need to be very careful about protecting them," Faraci said. "They have a substantial amount of investment in our community."
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.
Unless the trucks are on private property, where there are fewer restrictions, the ordinance is not conducive to expanding a food truck market.
That ordinance is in place for a reason, said City Attorney Fred Stavins. In the 1990s, there were "pizza guys in front of pizza places." The pilot program, however, allows the trucks to operate only in six designated public locations.
On Tuesday night, no "brick-and-mortar" restaurant representatives opposed the extension of the pilot program. Even Tony Pomonis, a candidate for the vacant District 3 council seat and the owner of Merry-Ann's Diner, said the competition is a good thing.
"They keep us honest, they make us rework our menus," Pomonis said.
Council members could make a permanent change to the ordinance in the future, but for now, the trial program will continue until June 1, 2013.