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Rochester council finalizes food truck rules

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The city of Rochester is ready for mobile food units. Last-minute changes to the city's food truck ordinance introduced a tiered fee system that reduced proposed start-up costs for operators and also allowed for non-motorized food units, including trailers.

The Rochester City Council's actions on Monday night marked the final touches on an ordinance amendment months in the making. But for those entrepreneurs who will put the new rules to use, this is only the beginning of a pilot program. The city plans to review its amendment again at the end of the summer.

The council took a first reading on the food truck ordinance amendments Monday and it will need to give a second reading before the changes take effect. The second reading is scheduled for June 6, which would give an effective date of June 12, according to Reeves. The council could act sooner by waiving a second reading at its May 16 meeting.

The council on Monday took action on four points of its food truck ordinance:

Lower fees

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City council member Nick Campion introduced a tiered fee system that will see mobile food unit owners pay lower fees in their first two years of business. The council had considered an annual $150 licensing fee and $1,350 franchise fee for food truck owners. The tiered system reduces that cost to the $150 licensing fee and a $750 franchise fee the first year a food truck owner operates.

In the second year an owner operates a mobile food unit, the franchise fee increases to $1,100. In the third year, and years following, the owner would pay a $1,350 franchise fee, which combined with the annual $150 licensing fee brings the owners' fees to $1,500, the council's previously agreed upon total.

"To just make it possible to have a food truck is probably not what we should be doing," Campion said in introducing the tiered fee. "We should be leaning into this to encourage this new business."

Trailers, too

At the council's last meeting, mobile food unit operators pointed out a potential speed bump in the city's ordinance. The ordinance specified "food trucks" and defined them as motorized vehicles. Some of Rochester's existing mobile food businesses operate from nonmotorized trailers, which would not be allowed.

"I'd just ask that you reconsider changing the language to be consistent with the state and the county from 'motorized vehicle' to 'mobile food unit,' which is any motorized or trailer vehicle," said Derrick Chapman in a public comment earlier in the meeting. Chapman owns Twisted Barrel wood fired pizza, a trailer unit.

"I'm afraid that if that's not in the language, there could possibly be zero food trucks until sometime late in the summer," Chapman said.

Council President Randy Staver, who previously had cited safety concerns with nonmotorized food units, said after further discussions with Rochester Police Department staff, he no longer was concerned about trailers as a safety hazard.

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The council agreed to amend the ordinance language to refer to "mobile food units," with a definition that included nonmotorized trailers.

Zone shift

In another last-minute change, City Clerk Aaron Reeves informed the council the proposed late-night zone for mobile food units to operate in the downtown business core was no longer a viable option. The council had identified space on Second Street Southwest, between First and Second avenues for operations from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.

The city had been informed buses still would be using that site after 9 p.m., Reeves said, and so the late-night zone was shifted one block east, to be situated between First Avenue Southwest and South Broadway Avenue.

More specifically, the new zone allocates about five parking spaces on the south side of Second Street Southwest in the half block nearest First Avenue, Reeves said. The council could, at a later date, consider adding spaces on the north side of the street.

A lunch hour zone and four general zones are also open to mobile food units in the downtown district.

Licenses

After review with an Olmsted County staff member, the council agreed to recognize mobile food unit permits issue by either Olmsted County or the Minnesota Department of Health. Each permit has different permissions for owners, but rather than choose one or the other, council member Mark Hickey recommended the ordinance stay in its current form — to recognize both permitting agencies.

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