Council Committee advances food truck ordinance after lengthy discussion

By Martha Stoffel

O’FALLON – After lengthy discussion with council members, residents and downtown business owners in attendance, the Community Development Committee voted to send the ordinance regulating mobile food truck vendors to council for its second reading without any changes. 

At last week’s city council meeting, a motion was approved for the ordinance to be sent back to the Community Development Committee. Ward 6 alderman Ned Drolet indicated the ordinance did not have a second reading in committee, and wanted to make sure that the community had the opportunity to speak or not regarding this ordinance before the final reading during Council. 

The initial discussion amongst the committee Monday night focused on clarification of the process the ordinance would now require for food trucks to operate within O’Fallon city limits. Currently there are no regulations on food trucks, so conversations began in September to establish an ordinance that would look to define food trucks, establish licensing fees and penalties. 

Upon approval of the ordinance, each food truck will be required to get an annual mobile food truck license through the city that will cost $125, as well as a $25 annual food license. The license will be issued by the City Clerk’s office and will require appropriate permits from the county health department before issuance. The license covers from May 1st – April 30th of each fiscal year. 

A special event permit will be required for a food truck to operate at any time in the city of O’Fallon. The permit will be issued through the Community Development Department, after approval by City Council. The council will review each event permit (for at least the first year) and will be able to put in place any specific restrictions (location, time, date etc.) necessary at that time and on a case-by-case basis. The special event permit may be requested by an individual food truck or the event organizer, this will include events organized by the O’Fallon Parks and Recreation Department. It was clarified that multiple events, at the same location by the same organizer, could be approved under one special event permit. 

Sweet Katie Bee’s owner voiced concern that they are currently unaware of what criteria the council will be using to determine special event approval and the impact to their business. Comments from several council members in attendance indicated they would take into consideration the types of food trucks being brought in for special events, and would look to approve events with trucks that would not negatively impact the brick and mortar businesses. 

It was not discussed whether the special event permit would require a list of specific food trucks being considered for the event. Recommendations were not made regarding how the council would obtain necessary information on each potentially-impacted business around the event location nor the criteria the business and council would use to determine the negative or positive impact of the presence of food trucks during an event. 

City staff reminded those in attendance the purpose of O’Fallon Station is to increase traffic to the downtown area for the benefit of those businesses, not to harm them. The owner of Hemingway’s indicated the Festival of Trees Extravaganza held at O’Fallon Station two weeks ago gave his business a bump, after a decline in sales during its construction because of parking limitations. Bike Surgeon’s owner told the committee the downtown businesses are excited about the possibilities with O’Fallon Station, but also nervous because there is no mechanism in place to let them know about events so they could communicate with the council before approval whether or not the event would negatively impact them. 

Ward 2 alderman Bob Kueker said his big concern was competition with brick and mortar, serving out of mobile food trucks to the public rather than just the people at a private events. “I would vote no (to a special event permit) probably if the sales were to the public.” 

Matt Gilreath, Ward 3 alderman, said “I have an obligation to represent the community as a whole, and the residents want the opportunities for food trucks.” He also indicated his desire to support activities at O’Fallon Station that would increase traffic to grow downtown businesses. 

Ray Holden made the motion to send the ordinance to council with no changes, and it was seconded by Mark Morton. After his second, Morton took an opportunity to reiterate comments he has made in previous meetings and Gilreath made earlier saying, “in addition to you guys (downtown business owners) investing a significant amount of money in renovating downtown, the city has also made a significant investment in building the pavilion (O’Fallon Station). To date, we haven’t seen a real issue with the food trucks. There’s no ordinance in place or no regulation today, so we went down this path simply because we want to make sure we do have the opportunity to regulate them if it becomes an issue.”

The committee voted 4-1 to approve the motion to send the ordinance to council. Jerry Albrecht voted no, and David Cozad was not in attendance.