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Food trucks are a go in Janesville

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Neil Johnson
June 9, 2014

JANESVILLE—Bring on the ice cream vendors and taco trucks.

The Janesville City Council unanimously OK'd new rules Monday that give mobile food trucks and cart vendors a healthy degree of food-carte blanche to sell streetside in Janesville.

The council pushed through ordinance changes that allows licensed, registered food trucks and carts that sell hot, prepared food to operate along streets and in public and private parking lots in much of the city except residential areas.

In its vote, the council eschewed a recommendation last week by the plan commission that trucks selling ice cream, shaved ice or frozen, packaged confectionaries be barred from selling in residential neighborhoods.

Instead, the council approved rules recommended Monday by city staff that will allow licensed ice cream trucks and carts to sell frozen items in neighborhoods from 8 a.m. to dusk, with a 9 p.m. curfew in other areas except downtown.

The council's decision came after two months of public sessions during which residents and vendors gave feedback that helped the city shape new rules on food trucks.

The vote opens a new chapter in a city that had shut down mobile food trucks for decades after a child was hit by an ice cream truck in the 1980s, officials said.

Manager of Building and Development Services Gale Price, who reworked the city's laws on mobile vendors, has said he expects most vendors will operate downtown, where the ordinance will allow mobile vendors to operate from 8 a.m. to 3 a.m.

In other areas including residential, sales will end at dusk, according to the new rules.

The ordinances have no cap on the number of cart or truck vendors allowed.  

Council members talked about how the new rules would fit well with the city's renewed efforts to rethink and revive commerce downtown. 

They said the new rules could help upstart vendors find their feet and serve as an “incubator” for potential brick-and-mortar restaurants.

“I think it's one of those slam dunk, no-brainers that we move forward with,” council member Sam Liebert said.

Under the new rules, food trucks would have to keep 200 feet away from existing restaurants, and they'd have to have site plans reviewed to make sure parking areas would have ample space for other people.

Vendors would have a 60-minute parking limit in residential or office areas, which Price said would keep vendors from becoming a “nuisance.” 

Food vendors must also stay 200 feet from parades and city events such as the farmers market. Cart vendors are allowed on downtown sidewalks, but they can't block pedestrians.

Vendors could operate in some parks, but they'd need permission from the city's recreation director or leaseholders to operate in parks, including areas where concessions are already sold.

The city will charge licensing fees of $500 for truck vendors, with an annual renewal of $250, and a $100 annual fee for food carts.

Price said the fees are structured to help the city recoup costs reviewing applications. The cost bothered council member Mark Bobzien. He called the fees “excessive.”

The city of La Crosse charges $25 a year for mobile vendor licenses. Madison charges $567 with an annual renewal of around $200, but fees in Madison are on a graduated scale, and can go up based on how profitable a food truck is, Price said.


Click play to hear Gazette reporter Neil Johnson talk with South Padre Food truck owner Chad Measner about the city ordinance change:



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