Alexandria: ‘Onerous Regulations’ Cripple Food Trucks Pilot

Alexandria: ‘Onerous Regulations’ Cripple Food Trucks Pilot


TJ Beasley stops for lunch at Rocklands Barbeque.

After two years, and with only a week before City Council is set to make a decision, it’s difficult to say the results of the Food Truck Pilot Program are decisive.

The idea was to allow food trucks on Alexandria streets in a limited capacity to test whether or not a policy allowing food trucks would be beneficial or not. The staff’s proposal, presented to the City Council at its Nov. 24 meeting in preparation for a public hearing on Dec. 12, would remove the “sunset” from the pilot program and essentially accept it as policy unless later overturned. But with only eight food trucks taking up the city on its restrictive offer, many members of council were not satisfied that the pilot had answered the initial question.

According to Joanna Anderson, only eight food trucks participated in the program, which she admitted was less than expected.

“There was not a lot of participation,” said Anderson, “and most of that was at the Hilton Center and the Port City Brewery, who had been pushing for the program.”

Where the food trucks didn’t show up were the parks.

“There was not much participation at parks,” said Anderson. “Food trucks don’t consider them close enough to where people want them.”

Councilman Justin Wilson backed the findings of the pilot, saying the program’s small scale was sufficient as a test.

“We wanted to do a modest approach on this, and we did an extremely modest one,” said Wilson. “There’s very few places in the city where this works, but I have no problem with extending sunset.”

But for many on the council, the strict limitations of the program hindered the Food Truck pilot. For the pilot to be successful, it needed to expand to include commercial parts of the city.

“I don’t even know why we bothered,” said Councilman Paul Smedberg. “The trucks were nowhere people wanted the trucks to be because it was so restrictive .… While the food rodeos are a nice idea, people want regularity and certainty as opposed to spontaneity. Until you open up Carlyle and the King Street Metro Area, why even bother? Why waste all this time? I don’t know what it gets us.”

Councilman John Chapman moved that the staff bring forward additional options for expansion of the program.

“We structured this way too much so it did not get a chance to live up to any real opportunity for success,” said Chapman. ”Other jurisdictions are doing this and having very good success with this. I don’t see why Alexandria should be any different.”

In letters to the council, organizers of Four Mile Run Market described the food truck regulations as onerous.

“We have had very little success in getting many vendors to come to market,” said Kevin Beekman. “The cost and burden are just too hard to overcome .... We need your help to revise the food truck registration process.”

“Every food truck vendor I've talked to has said the system is setup to fail,” said Nicholas Partee. “Food trucks don't make enough at our small market to justify all the fees. They need to have more of a reason to register in the city, which would in turn eliminate the barriers to setting up at our market from time to time”

Partee proposed ideas that would help improve the process, including allowing more trucks in commercial spaces in limited numbers. Mayor William Euille said he agreed with much of Partee’s assessment and urged the staff to consider the proposed ideas before the issue is brought to a vote in City Council in December. Euille was not as quick to fully embrace the idea of food trucks on every corner though.

“We really don’t have a lot of open space areas, that limits the opportunities and availability for food trucks,” said Euille. “We’re in a unique situation. If we’re going to have it, let’s find ways to make it work and be successful. Otherwise, let's just scrap it.”