Noblesville passes $1K food-truck fee

August 14, 2013
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Noblesville isn’t exactly rolling out the welcome mat for food trucks.

A divided Common Council approved changes in zoning law Tuesday that allow mobile food vendors to operate year-round in the city—with several restrictions and a fee that all but guarantees few will bother to make the trip.

Saying the proposed $200 annual permit fee was too low, Councilor Rick Taylor offered up an amendment increasing it to $1,000. The modification—and zoning measure—passed by a 4-3 vote after spirited discussion.

The debate was a familiar one: whether permitting mobile vendors puts taxpaying bricks-and-mortar establishments at risk.

“Do we want to encourage food trucks to come in … and potentially put one of these [restaurants] out of business?” asked council President Roy Johnson. He voted with Taylor, Mark Boice and Jeff Zeckel to hike the fee, saying it gives vendors a “vested interest” in the community.

Council member Stephen Wood said patrons, not politicians, should decide the fate of businesses. Colleagues Gregory O’Connor and Brian Ayer joined him in the minority.

“It’s good competition,” Wood said of food trucks. “And if they come and are successful here, they may open businesses here.”

That entrepreneurial element was among the points city Planning Director Christy Langley made in presenting the recommended zoning changes to the council.

“Food trucks can literally be an incubator” for bricks-and-mortar restaurants, she said.

A particularly relevant example: Barbecue enthusiast Adam Hoffman opened Big Hoffa’s Smokehouse Bar-B-Que in Westfield after three years of selling smoked meat from a gas station parking lot in Noblesville (under a series of 60-day “special use” permits). The Fishers resident is planning to open a second location this fall in Carmel.

Noblesville’s suggested $200 fee—which passed Plan Commission muster by an 11-0 vote—was calculated based on the staff time required to process applications and enforce compliance, Langley said.

“It’s not intended to create a burden,” she said.    

Local food truck operator Kari Nickander called the $1,000 price tag “crazy.”

The Taco Lassi and Pho Mi trucks she owns with husband Adam Perry are among a half-dozen or so licensed to roll in Fishers, which implemented a controversial $200 fee this spring. (On top of the $100 county permit required to sell food.) There’s no additional fee in Carmel.

Nickander said it takes time for a food truck to build a following, making the high cost a barrier to entry—especially in a suburb that lacks the population density of a city like Indianapolis. More than 60 trucks pay the $194 annual fee to operate in Marion County, which is largely free of regulations.

“It makes me so sad,” said Nickander, a resident of neighboring Cicero who told the council she loves Noblesville and wants to contribute to the community.

Trucks that pony up in Noblesville still face restrictions, including bans on parking in the downtown zoning district, in residential areas or within 1,000 feet of special events and the Noblesville Farmer’s Market.

Downtown advocate Renee Oldham, executive director of the Noblesville Main Street organization, endorsed the zoning ordinance, calling it a compromise that offers existing eateries some security while giving residents more dining diversity.

“We want to be fair,” she said.

Zeckel, who owns a catering business and runs a food stand at the Farmer’s Market, questioned city’s efforts to safeguard downtown businesses.

“Why not protect all restaurants?” he asked.

Mayor John Ditslear said he was surprised by the council’s move to increase the permit fee so dramatically but hopes mobile vendors find their way to the city nevertheless.

“I think it’s special enough that someone would be willing to take the risk,” he said.

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  • Carmel
    There is no fee in Carmel, yet. The power doesn't like them at all. Councilor Carter chased one off a year or so back. They didn't act fast enough before citizens made it clear that they liked them and if Carmel would ban them then Carmel wouldn't be the hip place it wants to be (if that's even remotely possible.) So the powers are treading water. My guess is that they will get them out of Carmel via a big fee as soon as they think the politics and timing is right.
  • Seriously
    These fees are ridiculous. I work downtown and live in Fishers. I frequent food trucks often for lunch and I would love to see them come north for dinner or on the weekends. I don't feel as though they are taking away from established restaurants, they are offering more variety.
  • Oh well
    Well that's unfortunate, but I hope the food trucks steer clear of Noblesville. A focus on downtown and the cultural districts will suit food trucks just fine, and all for a much lower price than Noblesville. Why cater to the suburbs? Food trucks are too cool for the 'burbs anyway.
  • Food Trucks
    Might as well make it a $10,000 fee to have a food truck in Noblseville. Why would a truck want to drive past Fishers ($200 fee) and Carmel (no fee) and all of those residents to reach a smaller audience with a larger fee?
    • Yummm
      Food trucks in Carmel are a blessing. Businesses like SoHo and Union Brew Company thrive when they have food trucks serving their wares. Here's hoping there are more opportunities for them in Carmel so they don't even think of going anywhere else.
    • Unfriendly Government
      Amen Willow! Just goes to show you that these city nuts, don't understand how to govern! I hope anyone who wants to open a business, understands that they don't seem to be wanted in Noblesville!
    • Keeping downtown noblesville dead
      Glad to see the town council is curbing any idea that would improve the downtown. Note that in addition to the $1000 fee, the trucks are banned from the square. So we'll just be stuck with the fried diner food at most of the places around downtown noblesville.
      • Politics not free enterprise
        Any time politicians try to "protect" their existing businesses, they are simply forcing their influence (provided by local businesses doing everything they can to avoid facing competition) onto the free enterprise system. It simply shows a narrow-minded, small-town perspective when it comes to business. Just another reason to avoid Noblesville and move to other communities when thinking of relocating. Good job again - government in Noblesville!
      • freedom?
        Isn't Noblesville heavily Republican? I thought the Republicans were all about capitalism, free enterprise and less government restrictions and barriers? Am I wrong?
      • Food Trucks BAD for Business!
        Food trucks need to pay fees to the owners of the parking lots they are using to sell goods. They take away business from the real tenants who pay rent. I say BAN THE FOOD TRUCKS ENTIRELY!
      • Awful & Ridiculous
        I am the owner of two popular brick and mortar establishments and two popular food trucks. The $1000 permit fee will not bring one food truck into town as was it's intent. What a shame. I would imagine that it could be the highest fee in the country. My trucks are the "gateway" to customers who don't know about my brick and mortar establishments. These trucks are a primary reason I plan on opening additional businesses around central Indiana over the next eighteen months. They create demand for my products and allow me to gauge a communities reaction and needs for my goods. Additionally I often donate a percentage of my sales (10-15%) to a local church, school or charity when the trucks are set up. One such church organization in a southern suburb has received over a $1000 from us just this year. When a similar ordinance was up for proposal late last year in Fishers I was a vocal proponent for allowing trucks to come into the town. Food trucks are good business for any community with proper regulations and fees. To my knowledge no restaurant has ever closed because of a food truck. I can emphatically prove that food truck operators open business in a community because of the success they have when visiting. Finally it's worth mentioning that I also garage these food trucks in Noblesville every night. I pay rent monthly and have invested thousands of dollars with a local merchant to store, maintain and build out my vehicles right here in good old Noblesville.
      • What a stupid plan!
        The $1000 fee is terribly short-sighted. More food trucks would help Noblesville become more of a food destination, thereby creating more business for the brick-and-mortars. But it ain't gonna happen now. Thanks for making Noblesville less attractive.
      • Suppressing Entrepreneurship
        Food trucks would be crazy to pay such a fee. Another example that Noblesville wants to continue not having a hand in the entrepreneurial landscape that central Indiana is creating and embracing. Enjoy the next chain restaurant Noblesville!
      • Fried?
        "Fried diner food?" Obviously this poster doesn't frequent downtown Noblesville. Syd's, yes, but, really?
      • free market
        Government by the people and for the people.thank you for keeping the market place competitive.
      • Food truck owners should fight this
        What's next? To be equitable in enforcing trade practices, should the Common Council place the same fees on all retail service trucks and vans of plumbers, electricians, HVAC contractors, etc., that perform services in Noblesville that are not domiciled there? If contested, this zoning law permit fee most likely would be deemed unconstitutional.
      • i.e.
        I.E. The two crappy bars in downtown Noblesville? Don't want trucks competing with them on the square? This is a strange decision; hopefully public support changes the game in time.
      • Over government
        This is just ridiculous. It's old-guard, protecting old-guard and trying to "control" things it shouldn't. Free market is what this nation was founded on. Oh, and someone should tell Renee Oldham she's delusional. Her comment: [Downtown advocate Renee Oldham, executive director of the Noblesville Main Street organization, endorsed the zoning ordinance, calling it a compromise that offers existing eateries some security while giving residents more dining diversity. “We want to be fair,” she said.] Renee, congratulations, you managed to say something that was completely contradicting.
      • Why??
        As a young professional who lives in Noblesville, this is outrageous. Would Noblesville like to add more people like me to the city? Sure they would. Passing things like this will deter that. There is a reason my friends all live downtown Indy, Meridian-Kessler or even downtown Carmel. Food trucks are not going to take business away from mainstream businesses...but they could attract more young people and families to the city. Small thinking by 4 of the members of this board...get out and see what is going on in the world. Times are changing but Noblesville sure doesn't seem to be.
      • Food trucks are no real threat.
        Food trucks are no real competition to restaurants anywhere. If I want a $4 slice of pizza or a few tacos, I'll get them from a food truck and stand while I eat. If I want to sit down in a nice air conditioned restaurant, I won't eat at a food truck. The fee is just protectionist taxes on the part of Noblesville's city council, and government interference in the way business works. Look, if a decent restaurant can't compete against a food truck, then it's the restaurant's fault, not the food trucks. I'm surprised the city council thinks their restaurants aren't good enough to survive mobile food vendors.
      • Downtown Square
        Noblesville did the right thing here. Look what Wal-Marts did to town squares. Noblesville is protecting its main asset which makes the town different from cookie cutter Fishers. Bloomington has a ban on chain restaurants in their downtown square. Both these cities understand how important protecting their turf is in this day and age. Is it pure capitalism? No, but why does every city have to walk like the other. I will take Noblesville and the Bloomington's of the world evryday over Fishers.
        • Walmart Customers
          Wal-Mart did not do anything to the town square in Noblesville, or any other town square. CUSTOMERS choose where they want to shop and many times they choose Wal-Mart.
        • Competition breeds better products
          It is a shame to me that any restaurant owner would be afraid of the competition from food trucks. Instead of keeping them out, up your game and do better food. As a restaurant owner in a public building, we get food trucks outside our place all the time and I welcome them!! It brings people who might not have been in our area before and next time, they just might venture into our building and find us.
        • Would love some new lunch options
          As a person that works on the square, it would be nice to have some options aside from Subway or all the other deep fried restaurants. The $1k fee set will ensure that Noblesville government will make $0. So glad I don't live here
        • Here's what really caught my eye about this story
          No women on the Common Council? What's up with that?!
        • See the bright side
          Use this to your advantage...if you are a food truck whining about the $1000 fee (which is nothing compared to paying brick & mortar rent) and you REALLY think that other trucks WON'T go to Noblesville now, then pay it and be one of the few trucks there without much competition. Think of it as weeding out your competition. Just try to see the bright side.
          • Response to see the bright side.
            Those of us who live in Noblesville and own food trucks aren't going to flourish setting up our mobile businesses in town. There are at least four trucks and owners who reside here (or between Noblesville and Cicero. Wouldn't it be great to stay close to home once in awhile and take care of our own community's citizens? I'm tempted to cough up a grand to do just what you are saying; not to mop up and make tons of $$$ (that won't happen trust me) but to P*ss the councilmen who just don't want to see trucks in Noblesville. I am also tempted to test the ordinance because IMHO it is not enforceable. It's NOT ABOUT PARKING ON THE SQUARE. It's about having the ability to visit corporate campuses or facilities that want us there for their employees. Or maybe its just parking at the Valero for a couple of hours and getting someone coming or going up 37 to stop and spend a little money with us and then wandering off to the Starbucks or Best Buy or moving west towards the square to spend a little more in our town. Our local politicians are too short sighted to see any of this and are just protecting their interest. One of these councilman in particular (is a really great guy) but he should have recused himself from even voting due to his food/trailer/farmers market ties. Trust me the town would never be over-run by food trucks. This was all designed to protect personal interest. I know several restaurant owners in town (and on the square very well). I support them very regularly and I believe they have NO ISSUE with food trucks. They don't and can't compete. Its simply a different option. Put a food truck out on the square on a Saturday night. They would be lucky to do $200 or $300 in a 3-4 hour time frame. Anyone of those eateries on the square would do $2-$5k in the same period. To my original point the fee is shameful and an embarrassment to the town we live in. Nothing but a bunch of good ole boys dictating how you should live your lives in their fiefdom.

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