Cedar Park mulls food trailer rules

When entrepreneurs Andy and Mai Lan Bradford sought to open a food trailer in Cedar Park earlier this year, they discovered the city lacks any specific direction on how or if mobile food vendors can operate.

"One thing I noticed is nothing regulates the food truck business," Andy Bradford said.

Cedar Park ordinances permit two types of vendors: peddlers such as ice cream trucks which can stop on the roadside for a maximum of 15 minutes to sell merchandise, and seasonal vendors such as snow cone stands, which can be set up for 30–60 days. No provisions exist for mobile food vendors.

"As the popularity of food trucks has increased in our region, we have received inquiries from a variety of different types of mobile food vendors," Assistant City Manager Josh Selleck said in a statement. "In the past we've been able to accommodate these users [only] when they fit within the existing code."

Spurred by the interest of potential vendors, in July City Council discussed how the city might regulate food trailers and asked staff to bring back options to consider.

"Staff will be looking at guidelines and models from various other cities in the area in order to determine a model that best fits Cedar Park," Selleck said. "Additionally we will be collecting input received from the community, the chamber of commerce, and restaurant owners [and] managers. The Cedar Park [food trailer] model will need to work in conjunction with the frameworks established by state and county regulations."

City staffers said they anticipate bringing back initial information to City Council in late August or September.

An array of options

During the past two years, Austin-area cities such as Buda, Hutto and Round Rock have tackled the issue of regulating food trailers within their city limits. In September 2012, Round Rock City Council approved a one-year development agreement with the owner of a parcel of downtown land on which 12 independent food trailers were allowed to operate in accordance with Williamson County health regulations.

"The purpose of that was a temporary pilot program to see how things went, because our ordinances do not permit mobile food vendors to set up on-site somewhere," said Brad Wiseman, Round Rock Planning and Development Services director. "It didn't seem to be that successful in terms of popularity. ... It was ultimately decided that it wasn't something the City Council wanted to continue. That pilot program expired, and we did not adapt or change any of our ordinances to pursue mobile food vendors in Round Rock."

As in Round Rock, Cedar Park City Council could opt to allow mobile food vendors and locations on a limited basis. Cedar Park resident Levi Lambert has met with city staffers since 2013 to try to structure a 2-acre food trailer park as a planned use development on the east side of Parmer Lane near FM 1431.

Plans for the proposed Lambert's Foodapalooza food trailer park include eight food trucks owned by Lambert but serving different cuisines; a permanent commercial kitchen, restrooms and covered pavilions; an outdoor movie screen; and a shaded playscape.

Lambert said he hopes to open the park by spring after completing the land purchase from the neighboring church, garnering support from additional investors and establishing utilities at the site.

"How the food trucks behave in connection with the on-site commissary—that hasn't been done by anyone," Lambert said. "It's what makes ours so much different from any other food trailer park out there. I want it to be a family attraction and a destination."

During the July 10 council meeting, Cedar Park Planning Manager Amy Link offered another option: City Council could amend the existing ordinance regarding snow cone stands to include a provision for food trailers.

"A permit would be required with an annual renewal so you would know who's in town. We would also require that the applicable county permits be obtained," Link said. "We would look at prohibiting these types of mobile food vendors in residential districts if they plan on staying for a long period of time."

Varying opinions

After discussion at the meeting, Councilman Corbin Van Arsdale solicited feedback about food trailers in the city from Cedar Park residents.

"Several people mentioned having set locations that are just for food trailers. Other people mentioned that they didn't have a problem with them being next to brick-and-mortar places, but they didn't want to create more problems for pedestrians and cars," Van Arsdale said. "The people who were against it were passionately against it, and they had different reasons. One I kept hearing was, 'I don't want to be like Austin.'"

Cedar Park resident Mike McCloskey said just because adjacent cities have food trailers does not mean they are suitable for Cedar Park.

"I am very concerned for whether it is fair to the brick-and-mortar restaurants that have made a significant long-term investment in the community and already have to compete with other restaurants under equal terms," he said. "To allow someone to bring a food trailer to the city without community ties and without the same regulations as other restaurants should be treated with concern."

Bradford said he thinks food trailers in Cedar Park would add charm and diversity.

"I think that this could spawn a whole variety of types of business that could [operate in] this town versus your chain restaurants," he said. "We knew there was some evolution happening as far as having the food trucks out here. We thought [opening a commercial kitchen] was a good opportunity to be out here before that happens rather than being reactive."

More food choices

In July the Bradfords opened Korner Kitchen on South Bell Boulevard in Cedar Park. The commercial kitchen offers to-go meals cooked by Mai Lan and rentable space for independent chefs, caterers, chocolatiers, wholesale food preparers and food trailer operators.

Andy said Korner Kitchen is providing space for local food vendors while awaiting more explicit guidelines for food trailers from the city.

"The reason we opened this up is because we want to be food truck owners and also open it up to other small businesses," he said.

With the exception of certain edibles that fall under the Texas Cottage Food Law, local food vendors must prepare their products in a commercial kitchen according to Williamson County and Cities Health District standards.

In April, Karen Luna opened Luna's Kitchen, a restaurant that offers daily breakfast and lunch specials, customized meals, and a commercial kitchen that can be rented by personal chefs, candy makers, mobile food vendors and others. Luna said some of the individuals who rent space at Luna's Kitchen are entrepreneurs moving toward legitimizing their home-based food operations. They help offer more variety for consumers, she said.

Some critics say the addition of food trucks in Cedar Park will drive down business for existing brick-and-mortar restaurants. But Luna said commercial kitchens, food trailers and restaurants can all coexist in Cedar Park.

"There is enough of a market out there for everyone. Everybody eats," she said. "My food, I know not everybody is going to like it. So if there is something else people can choose from, that's better for the customer. And that's what I want to do—give people lots of options."

Additional reporting by Stephen Burnett