Columbia food trucks to keep rolling

COLUMBIA, SC (WACH) - The new guys in the food game were served a victory at Columbia city council Tuesday night.

A nearly two-hour public hearing on proposals by the Columbia Restaurant Association to keep the increasingly popular food trucks from parking too close to traditional restaurants ended with council voting 5-1 to adopt an ordinance drawn up by the city's planning commission that included none of the restaurant association's extreme measures.

The association wanted council to impose food and fire safety regulations enforced by the state on the rolling restaurants, in addition to requiring food trucks to s et up 200 feet away from fixed restaurants, and 1500 feet, roughly four city blocks, from fixed eateries that serve similar food.

"I think a lot of this is based on fear of competetion," said Scott Hall, owner of the Bone In Artisan Barbecue food truck.

His restaurant on wheels has picked up considerable steam since he launched it to the Columbia lunch crowd last winter. Hall's food truck is one of four currently doing business in Columbia.

"Is it city council's job to protect existing restaurants from competition?" asked Hall hours before Tuesday night's vote. "From legal competition? I certainly don't think it is."

Restaurant association officials based their proposals to city council on a model used in Atlanta after that city saw an explosion in food truck vendors in roughly a year's time. After the trucks popped up so quickly, officials there worried some wouldn't follow proper food safety measures.

"We're not against food trucks. We have some great food trucks in the city of Columbia right now," said Tom Sponseller of the SC Hospitality Association, which encompasses the Columbia Restaurant Association. "There are really good operators that are thinking about safety and food safety and things like that. But, this ordinance is not written for today, it's going to be written for five years, ten years down the road."

In the end, council rejected all of the association's proposals and approved a 100-foot buffer zone between food trucks and traditional restaurants. They also required that food truck operators only set up on private property and get written permission from property owners before serving customers.

The ordinance faces a second and final vote on December 13, and will likely go into effect in six months. Council members said the ordinance could be re-visited in the future for possible "tweaking" after getting input from both food truck vendors and restaurant owners on how the ordinance is impacting them.