Food trucks still limited in town

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Okotoks: Council keeps mobile vending bylaw restricted to special events only

Food truck vendors will have to wait at least another year to see any changes to policies in Okotoks that limit when they can set up in town.

Council voted on Feb. 26 not to revisit its current mobile vending bylaw, which limits businesses like food trucks to operating within Town limits only during special events.

“We’re going to keep it the same for right now and we will look at it in the next year to see whether strategic priorities have changed and it makes sense for us to make that change at that time,” said Coun. Tanya Thorn.

She said council chose not to amend the bylaw at this time because it doesn’t line up with strategic priorities outlined for town council during the current four-year term. Staff resourcing and direction is focused elsewhere, said Thorn.

“It has absolutely nothing to do with the concept of mobile vending, it really is that we’ve got a very aggressive strategic plan and we’ve got staff very focused on certain elements,” said Thorn.

Changing the mobile vending bylaw would require amending bylaws and extensive research around how the policy would work – where food trucks could operate, hours of operation, and how it would impact brick-and-mortar establishments, she said.

Changes would also need to be put forward to the public to comment, said Thorn.

It would be a drain on the economic development and planning teams, which are currently focused on commercial development and municipal development plans, and land use bylaws, all of which are major strategic planning documents for the community, she said.

“We’re not saying we won’t re-look at it, because we will, but it’s just not in the queue right now,” said Thorn.

It’s not the news food truck operators wanted to hear.

Jim Charbonneau, owner of Il Forno Vagabondo, said it’s frustrating to see the Town of Okotoks take so long to implement a more open policy for mobile vending.

He runs his truck during special events, but that doesn’t pay the bills. Charbonneau said he has to do business in Calgary, High River, Strathmore, Cochrane, and the MD of Foothills in order to make ends meet.

“We couldn’t exist under the policy if we don’t go to other places,” said Charbonneau. “You just couldn’t make a living at it.”

He said in other communities, food trucks are permitted to operate except in restricted areas, which are clearly outlined by the municipalities. He pays a business licence to each community he works in, and sets up at approved locations.

Most municipalities give bylaw officers the final say, he said.

“If they feel you’ve set up in an unsafe area for traffic flow and things like that, they can come by and say it’s not going to work and you need to move, so the Town still has authority,” said Charbonneau.

He hopes to see Okotoks join the ranks of other communities soon, so he can work more in his hometown of 20 years.

Though the owners of Bean Muggin’ recently sold their food truck ahead of the upcoming season, former owner Jim McLellan said they would have liked to see Okotoks open up its policy a bit more.

He said the truck mostly operated on weekend and was run as a hobby, but they were still forced to travel to make their efforts worthwhile. He said he gave preference to the Foothills, including High River and Okotoks events, and the Millarville Farmer’s Market.

However, he said he had to be careful in Okotoks.

“I know that we always had to be sure we were invited somewhere and that it was a special event and then we could go,” said McLellan. “It would be good to go to businesses who ask you to come support them – a car dealership or RV dealership or store having an event of their own – it would be good to be able to go and do those things without seeking approval from the Town first.”

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