Business Permitting

Food Trucks Order Up Zoning, Licensing, and Other Regulatory Issues In North Carolina

Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side. Where Korean beef tacos are all the rage.

Yes, yes, food trucks are taking the culinary world by storm. Some would even say these mobile kitchens are taking the hipster culinary world by storm. What, you already know about food trucks? Ok, all the hipsters have now moved onto something else.

From the New York Times to the Food Network to the Wall Street Journal, food trucks are getting some press they deserve and some press they do not. Heck, even free-market newspaper, devotee of Ecuadorian elections and purveyor of puntastic headlines The Economist devoted a half-page of its annual preview to the topic. See “Trucking Delicious,” The World In 2011. These cheaper and sometimes more creative alternatives to brick and mortar restaurants are making their presence known.

Here in the Triangle of North Carolina, however, that presence may not be all too welcome for some. It seems the lunchtime hotspots are running into some regulatory and commercial obstacles care of state and local governments as well as competing establishments. In Raleigh, for example, city ordinances restrict food truck operation and parking to commercially zoned land. In addition, a permit is required for location though these little licenses are only available twenty (20) days at a clip. And downtown? Raleigh’s downtown overlay zoning districts, which encompasses the popular Fayetteville Street (businesses) and Glenwood South (bars and nightlife) areas, do not permit food trucks to locate at all. In other words, the climate isn’t very accommodating. What’s more, the non-driveable version of restaurants — you know, with tables — take issue with the cheaper and perhaps more speedy options.

But, in the melodic words of the Grateful Dead, there may be “help on the way.” Raleigh’s City Council has appointed a committee to study the issue — after all, these trucks thrive alongside traditional establishments in comparable spots like Portland, Oregon and Austin, Texas (yep, even good neighbor Durham!). Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin, who heads that committee, has indicated that change is likely in the Capital City provided existing businesses are given a fair shake.

We’ll monitor this food truck issue, with its zoning and business license implications, as it develops. Until then, can I get you another arepa?

Mike Thelen is a lawyer in Womble Carlyle’s Real Estate Litigation practice group. He regularly represents a wide variety of clients in land use and land development issues, from local governments to businesses, in both state and federal venues throughout North Carolina.

Categories: Business Permitting

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