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Franklin officials chew over where to allow mobile food carts

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If you want a hot dog for lunch, dinner or at 1 a.m. in downtown Franklin, one city resident wants to be there with his food cart.

The only problem is that city rules haven’t caught up with the new trend of mobile food vendors, including food trucks. So right now, under city rules, Leon Joiner can set up his cart only on private property.

But Franklin officials are considering changing that rule to allow food carts or trucks to be able to set up on sidewalks or roadways downtown to give workers and visitors more options on where to grab something to eat.

City officials think mobile vendors, like those that park on Georgia Street in Indianapolis, will continue to move out to the suburbs. Franklin has had only one food truck, which parked near city hall and the county annex building a few times last summer.

But in the past month, three people, including Joiner, have contacted the city to find out whether they can start selling lunch downtown, Mayor Joe McGuinness said.

“The fad or trend has really started to pick up in the more urbanized areas, and it’s spreading. I can see where it’s a big deal in Indianapolis,” McGuinness said.

Mobile food vendors already need to be licensed by the county health department before they can sell food to the public.

City codes say people can’t sell food or other items while standing on sidewalks or in road medians. But other than that, Franklin doesn’t have any other rules regulating what food trucks can and can’t do. Currently a truck could set up on private property or in a public parking space, but there are no rules about when they can sell, where they can sell and whether they’ll need some type of permit or permission from the city. City officials should have some knowledge of who is selling food in the city and some reassurance they’re keeping customers safe, McGuinness said.

The city is gathering information from other communities about how they regulate food carts and hasn’t made any decisions on what to implement yet, Franklin senior planner Joanna Myers said.

Greenwood allows street vendors to sell food or other items as long as they file information with the city and pay for a permit. Other cities have stricter policies. For example, Westfield doesn’t allow food trucks except during certain events or if they’re invited to serve a large business, according to Matthew Skelton, director of economic and community development.

McGuinness wants to consider how mobile food vendors would affect brick-and-mortar restaurants and may consider a rule that a food truck can’t park in front of an existing restaurant.

Joiner wants to set up a hot dog cart downtown this summer and be able to sell food from city sidewalks daily. The cart would open just before lunch, and he’d sell through dinner. On weekends he might stick around until 2 a.m. to serve people on their way in or out of the Artcraft Theatre or heading home from a downtown bar, he said.

Jenny Reinacker, who runs the Kitchen Little food truck, parked her truck in downtown Franklin a few days last year and said not enough people bought food when she was downtown. Reinacker said she will spend most days this summer at Hoosier Horse Park but plans to give downtown Franklin another try.

Parking a cart on the sidewalk isn’t allowed currently except at city festivals, but city officials can grant a waiver. McGuinness wants the city to create rules for food trucks and carts so the city doesn’t have to approve exceptions every time.

In Greenwood, vendors have to fill out an application stating what type of items they plan to sell and how long they plan to operate, as well as general information about the owner such as name, address, criminal history and insurance. The vendor pays a permit fee of $75 for a six-month license.

Fishers allows food trucks as long as vendors pay a $200 fee for an annual permit.

Westfield restricts food trucks because business owners planning to locate near the city’s new Grand Park sports complex expressed concern about opening a restaurant if food trucks could park across the street, Skelton said.

McGuinness also has concerns about whether food trucks or carts could hurt existing downtown restaurants and wanted to gather input from them.

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