Providence officials look to revise outdated ordinance not fit for food trucks

The wheels are turning to loosen up restrictions on food truck vendors in the city of Providence.

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Officials are looking into revising a decades-old ordinance that requires restaurants-on-wheels to abide by the same rules as hawkers or peddlers, including the two-hour limit in parking spaces around the capital city. This is just one of the restrictions that local food truck vendors have said is killing their business.

"They need to set up, do a lunch or dinner service for two or three hours, and then clean up," said Eric Weiner, a food truck advocate who runs the website FoodTrucksIn.com. "Telling them to move makes it so they can't park or make a living."

The new law would allow food trucks to park in two-hour spots for up to four hours and to park in metered spots as long as they pay, said Councilman Bryan Principe, who sponsored the legislation. The Providence City Council votes on the new ordinance Thursday.

As the food truck trend has grown, cities across the country have sought to revise outdated regulations in order to accommodate the mobile restaurants. Providence's ordinance hasn't been revised in decades and doesn't specifically address food trucks.

"The old ordinance was titled for peddlers and hawkers," Principe said. "It just shows you the age of the ordinance."

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One rule that won't be tossed is a proximity ban that prevents food trucks from setting up shop within 200 feet of brick-and-mortar restaurants, which Principe said is the courteous thing to do, though he doesn't think food trucks are competition.

"I think they're targeting different segments of the population," Principe said. "I think we have a very dynamic restaurant scene in this city in general, and that includes food trucks."

Paul Gervais, who owns food truck Buddha Belly, said the restrictions have made an already-challenging business even more difficult.

"It's absurd that in a city where we have one of the leading culinary schools and we're known for food, it's not more food truck friendly," Gervais said.

Gervais used to park his truck on Thayer Street, near Brown University's campus, a location Gervais said was perfect because his authentic Chinese street food — like pork-filled dumplings — appealed to many of the school's international students. But he stopped parking there after police asked him on several occasions to leave, either because of how or where he was parked.

"If these rules pass, 100 percent I would go back to Thayer Street," Gervais said.

But Gervais said he still takes issue with the proximity ban, which he sees as unfair because it only applies to food trucks, and not to other brick-and-mortar restaurants.

"I don't want to take away anyone's business," Gervais said. "The food truck industry is blowing up. We're adding, not taking away."