City of Schuyler initiates new food truck ordinance

June 15, 2018

Food truck vendors will no longer be following the city’s drive-thru restaurant regulations and now have their own ordinance to follow ensuring standardization, safety, mobility and self-containment, city officials say.

Existing vendors will have to renew their permits by Aug. 1.

Taqueria Hernandez, owned by Palemon and Leticia Hernandez, is a food truck that specializes in Mexican cuisine and has been in business for upward of 15 years in the parking lot of Didier’s Grocery, 122 W. 16th St. Throughout their years of service, the Hernandez duo has been following the state’s Health and Food Service Inspection regulations, as well as state and city codes.

Palemon said he was on board with the city’s new ordinance, adding it did not raise concerns because his food truck is already a self-contained unit with its own water and electricity.

“Maybe my only concern would be is having to move my carport shelter,” he said. “It has not caused any type of harm or issue before. It has been there for years and we make sure is kept clean and in good, safe conditions.”

Palemon said he plans to work with the new ordinance to keep his business running successfully for customers.

The ordinance was passed May 21 upon completion of its three-reading rule. The Planning and Zoning Commission spent six to eight months putting together the ordinance, covering all aspects of the food truck business. City staff studied ordinances from eight different communities, such as Kearney and Sioux Falls, South Dakota, before drafting their own version for Schuyler.

“Our goal is to not only support the needs and services that food trucks provide, but also to support existing and future restaurants that are brick and mortar buildings so that we don’t have 50 food trucks in town and no restaurants,” City Attorney Dick Seckman said. “We need both.”

With the increasing number of food truck vendors coming into town, city council members grew concerned with the lack of regulations in place for services provided. Food truck vendors were referred to the city’s existing drive-in regulations which city staff later found unsuitable.

“Our city staff, the city clerk and the building inspector were struggling when people would come in wanting to know what the guidelines were in order to operate a food truck in the city,” Seckman said.

Due to the lack of regulations, he said members felt like they needed to protect existing restaurant businesses, especially in the downtown area, and to improve their administrations on food truck vendors.

“It’s to regulate them and make it fair to restaurants,” Seckman said.

Vendors had relied on neighboring properties for utilities such as water and electricity, and Schuyler Department of Utilities and Schuyler Fire Department officials said that can be dangerous for the vendors and their customers.

Seckman also raised the issue of vendors not properly disposing of their food, wastes and oil.

“We try to regulate those as well by requiring any food truck to be a self-contained food truck, so they cannot rely on utilities from a different property,” he said. “They have to have (them) on the site where they’re operating.”

The new food truck ordinance allows city staff to standardize the availability of customer parking spaces, how vendors supply their utilities, the mobility of these vending units and their distances from licensed restaurant property line.

The first reading of the food truck ordinance was held April 23 during a council meeting at Schuyler Municipal Building. Numerous food trucks owners were invited to attend the meeting to share their thoughts and to address their concerns.

“It was a process of trying to work with them, not against them,” Seckman said.

The ordinance requires food truck vendors to undergo a background check before applying for their permits. Vendors conducting their services in the area will have to apply for a yearly permit and those who come into town specifically for special events such as Labor Day have the option of applying for a daily permit. These permits will be issued to the primary operator of the mobile food vending unit.

Permits, proof of insurances, as well as food and daily permits will be displayed for customers to see.

City Clerk Lora Johnson said this will help ensure the safety of customers by knowing these vendors are serving food that is safe.

“We do check with the state to make sure everything is current and there are no violations with it,” she said.

Food truck vendors will need to move their vehicles for a minimum of 10 hours per week if they’re stationed on private property.

“I just feel (the Planning and Zoning Commission) really thought out everything and at this time, I don’t see anything that’s not covered or that we have covered that shouldn’t be covered,” Johnson said. “I just think they really took their time and didn’t rush their decision on anything, so I feel it’s a really well laid out plan.”

Natasya Ong is a reporter for the Schuyler Sun. Reach her via email at natasya.ong@lee.net.