Highland News Leader

Highland City Council mulls over allowing food trucks

Highland residents might see food trucks trundling through their streets, as the city council is considering an ordinance to regulate their appearance.

Eric Drake and Ashley Rench have indicated an interest in opening “Espressions,” a coffee bar that would set up as permitted by the city.

“We’ve noticed a lack of coffee restaurants in Highland,” Drake said, and proposes they would set up as a drive-through gourmet coffee location — if the city allows it.

“I don’t want to take away any business from anyone in Highland,” Rench said. “We want to bring business to Highland, not take anything away.”

Highland city attorney Mike McGinley said a recent Illinois Supreme Court ruling allowed the city of Chicago to regulate food trucks in an effort to protect brick and mortar restaurants. McGinley said the ruling indicated cities have a vested interest in protecting brick-and-mortar businesses that pay property taxes, so the city can regulate food trucks if they wish.

It’s about polarizing interests, McGinley said: Food trucks give new and different offerings to the city and its residents, but brick-and-mortar businesses are invested in the community as well. Some cities require that food trucks must be 750 feet away from a restaurant; Chicago’s ordinance indicated 200 feet, but “they are on a different scale,” McGinley said. Some cities have a “food truck day” once or twice a month; others allow it at any time.

Mallord Hubbard, Highland’s economic and business recruitment coordinator, said there have been a few inquiries including Espressions, and asked for the council’s guidance on whether they should work up an ordinance.

“We have already had discussions about where it would not be convenient due to our narrow streets,” Hubbard said.

Councilwoman Peggy Bellm said she had “mixed feelings” on the issue.

“I don’t mind taking a look at it further,” she said. “I can see where there might be a desire to have food trucks where the manufacturers are in town.”

Councilmen John Hipskind and Rick Frey said they had concerns.

“If they just pull up on the side of the square at noon, we’re causing a traffic problem,” Frey said.

Hipskind said he was reluctant, but might be inclined toward having food trucks once a month.

“The food business in Highland might be tougher than in most places,” he said. “The people who run them deserve some protection.”

City officials confirmed whatever the ordinance might allow, the food trucks would have to comply with the Madison County Health Department regulations. They could also be limited to an annual permit from the city of Highland, perhaps with a limited number of permits granted.

The St. Louis Food Truck Association has 49 members listed on its website, ranging from “Andrew’s Bayou Ribs” to “Zia’s Italian.” Food offerings cover a variety of ethnic and unusual cuisine, including “walk-away waffles,” 16 varieties of grilled cheese, steamed bagels, cupcakes, poke bowls, crepes, gourmet hot dogs, artisan breads, vegetarian fare, and food from Cajun, Indian, Balkan, Brazilian, Latin, Italian, Greek, Korean, Mexican, Chinese and pan-Asian flavors.

Alton holds an annual “food truck festival” co-sponsored by Sauce Magazine. The association’s website tracks the locations of its members on a map of the city, though, on a given day, there might be 25 operating in the city and one in the metro-east.

It was not immediately apparent when the proposed ordinance might be completed and voted by the council. The council will hold a special meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday to discuss proposed changes to inspections for new home construction.