J. Gumbos and Traveling Kitchen food trucks at parking meters on W. Market St. downtown | Photo by Rebekah Alvey

Newly proposed amendments to city ordinances regulating food trucks would dramatically change the way that such businesses operate downtown, drawing immediate backlash from food trucks owners who fear such action would harm their livelihoods.

An attorney for two local food truck owners who won their legal fight with the city earlier this year — forcing the council to repeal an ordinance prohibiting food trucks from operating within 150 feet of restaurants selling similar food — have also asserted that the proposed amendment violates the consent decree the city entered into with their clients, demanding that it be withdrawn.

The proposed ordinance amending the city’s food truck regulations was filed in Metro Council last Friday, sponsored by council members Brandon Coan, D-8, Barbara Sexton Smith, D-4, Pat Mulvihill, D-10, and Scott Reed, R-16. It will receive a first reading in the council meeting Thursday night and be placed in the Public Works, Facilities, Transportation and Accessibility Committee.

If passed in its current form, the ordinance would no longer allow food trucks to operate at parking meters, instead requiring that they obtain a permit to operate during certain hours at a “stationary vending zone,” which are areas to be designated by the Department of Public Works.

In a letter sent to council members and Mayor Greg Fischer Thursday morning, attorney Arif Panju of the Institute for Justice (IJ) — the law firm that forced the city to repeal the 150-foot rule and “works to vindicate economic liberty” — wrote that the proposed ordinance violated the city’s consent decree and judicial order from its lawsuit while “the ink on that order is barely dry.”

Panju wrote that the city failed to maintain compliance under the decree by not giving his clients 30 days of notice before the proposed ordinance was filed, adding that specific regulation changes within it would also constitute a violation.

Besides prohibiting mobile vendors from parking in metered spaces — but not other commercial vehicles, like UPS — Panju asserted that it “would force food trucks to move at least 250 feet every 10 minutes,” only permit them to operate during daylight hours and prohibit them from operating within 1,000 feet of any hospital or school.

The IJ attorney’s letter went on to assert that proposed legislative changes for food trucks “exist only for one purpose: To destroy the viability of mobile vending in Louisville in order to serve the private, financial interests of politically connected restaurateurs.”

Shortly after this letter was made public, the Louisville Food Truck Association (LFTA) posted on Facebook that “our businesses have come under attack from the city,” urging food truck consumers and supporters to contact Councilwoman Sexton Smith. The post detailed both the prohibition on operating in metered spaces and the assertion that the proposed ordinance would “force us to move every 10 minutes, and keep us blocks away from schools and hospitals.”

“If this new ordinance passes, it would be illegal to sell food at any of our normal locations and pretty much anywhere else our customers expect us,” stated the LFTA post, written by its president and Louisville Dessert Truck owner Leah Stewart. “This spiteful proposal would destroy local food truck businesses, including my own, and put many of people out of work.”

Councilwoman Barbara Sexton Smith, D-4

However, Sexton Smith disputed that characterization of her ordinance, saying that some have misinterpreted the proper definition of food trucks under those proposed changes.

While a “mobile vendor” would indeed be prohibited from staying in one place more than 10 minutes, operating near a school, hospital or at night, the councilwoman said that this would fit the definition of an ice cream truck, but not a conventional food truck. Sexton Smith said that a food truck would go under the definition of a “stationary vendor,” who are itinerant vendors that conduct business from a vehicle but not while traveling.

Under the proposed ordinance, a stationary vendor would not have to keep moving every 10 minutes but would only be allowed to operate within the new stationary vending zones, so long as they receive a permit from Public Works.

Sexton Smith said that the proposed ordinance is intended to clean up, simplify and streamline the existing regulations on itinerant vendors that were written several years ago, as she and her fellow sponsors have been working on it “for many months” to avoid any unintended consequences.

While the court order with IJ states that the city must give a 30-day notice before any changes regarding food trucks are made, Sexton Smith said that these are only proposed changes that would have to be approved by Metro Council after an extended public comment period, committee meetings and a vote from the full council, which is not expected until well into 2019. She added that the proposed ordinance — which she fully expects to be heavily amended in the months to come — would only go into effect 90 days after its final passage.

“I absolutely do not want anyone to be harmed beyond repair as a result of this ordinance,” said Sexton Smith. “That is not the intent of this at all.”

Sexton Smith added, “the intent is to create a more systematic approach to how business is being conducted in areas where there are parking meters. And the business being conducted is by multiple people. It’s by people driving downtown to go meet with their lawyer or got to their bank or go to one of these insurance companies, and they’re looking for a place to park. That’s conducting business, and they need a place to park.”

While freeing up parking options downtown, Sexton Smith also noted that she wants to “work with our stationary vending operations and create opportunities for them.”

While much of the details of how stationary vending zones and their permitting process will work are absent from the current draft of the proposed ordinance, Sexton Smith said that such zones would include areas where there are currently parking meters. Public Works would determine how many zones there are and where they are located after a period of public input, which would accommodate several vehicles and operate on a first come, first served basis for permit holders — the price of which has not yet been determined.

Sexton Smith said that she met recently with Stewart, the Louisville Food Truck Association president, and had a good conversation with her about the proposed changes, but that was before the ordinance was filed.

Stewart told Insider on Thursday that the councilwoman is incorrect about the definitions within the proposed ordinance, as a food truck meets the definition of a mobile vendor “who conducts business from a vehicle or other conveyance traveling upon public streets, alleys, or other public ways within Louisville.”

Under that interpretation of the ordinance, food trucks would be limited to 10 minutes at a time in one location, which Stewart said would put them all out of business. She also noted that the clear prohibition of food trucks parking at meters would be a direct violation of the consent decree, as the city explicitly agreed that “it can’t treat food truck differently than other commercial vehicles,” like moving trucks and UPS vans.

If the sponsors of the proposed ordinance continue to push the legislation without considerable changes that address the concerns of food truck owners, Stewart promised that there would be “a huge fight” in the months to come.

Parked at a meter on West Market Street between Fifth and Sixth on Thursday morning, the Livin the Dream Food Truck owner Dave Jackson told Insider that he heard about the proposed ordinance Wednesday night and would not be happy with the prohibition on metered parking and having to operate in city-approved zones.

“We just went to court and got it changed to where we didn’t have to go here and go there, and then they’re going to do this to us?” asked Jackson. “I think it’s a crock.”

Asked about the possibility of a rule requiring his vehicle to move every 10 minutes, Jackson said: “That’s crazy. That’s insane. That’s unsafe to shut down your gas and do everything else to move.”