CHAMPAIGN — City council members said Tuesday night that they wanted to see a food-truck trial program continue for at least one more year before they make anything permanent, and based on their comments, changes could be coming in the future.
The restaurants on wheels, of which three are active on Champaign streets, have been setting up on public property for nearly one year and will still be able to operate at seven designated locations in the downtown and Campustown areas at least until June 2014. The pilot program was set to expire June 1 before council members said they want to see it continue for another year on a trial basis.
Daniel Krause, co-owner of the Cracked food truck, said the city program is helping to keep them in business. Food trucks can set up whenever and however they want on appropriately zoned private property with the owner's permission, but Krause said when summer hits and students leave, there is very little traffic at their usual spot.
"The pilot program allows us to find that market that we lost, and that's really helping us to keep our business going," Krause said.
But there have been some complaints. City officials will now put a decibel limit on how loud truck generators may be, and administrators have been careful about where they let food trucks go. The designated locations have been at "arm's length" of brick-and-mortar restaurants, said Assistant Planning Director Rob Kowalski.
Seven Saints general manager Anne Clark told the city council that she believes food trucks still have an unfair advantage.
"I think there is maybe not necessarily preferential treatment, but there is a certain advantage to being in a movable location," she said.
She wondered if there was a way to compensate brick-and-mortar businesses for the traffic they lose.
"I guess maybe we can all get together and figure out a way that independent businesses won't suffer as a result," she said.
The program extension came with a few minor changes and discussion about possible changes to come. Food trucks will now be allowed to operate in one location for four hours at a time instead of two, and a couple of the seven designated locations will be moved.
One of those locations will be shifted to just outside The News-Gazette building from where it is now, farther west on Main Street. The change is to avoid conflict with the construction of a Hyatt Place hotel, but some council members expressed concern that the new location outside The News-Gazette will unfairly draw business away from Merry-Ann's Diner.
Merry-Ann's Diner owner Tony Pomonis was one of the few restaurant owners to support the food truck program when it launched last year. City officials said they will contact him personally to discuss the change, and adjustments may be made administratively if necessary.
Some council members also wondered if the allowable locations could be expanded beyond downtown Champaign and Campustown. They said city administrators should consider including industrial or research parks, where there are far fewer restaurant options for people who work in those areas.