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9:38 PM Sat, July 21st

STREET EATS: Food truck owners unite for access to downtown Prescott

Smokin’ Delicious LLC is one of several area mobile food vendors looking to more easily do business in Prescott if the city would allow them.

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Smokin’ Delicious LLC is one of several area mobile food vendors looking to more easily do business in Prescott if the city would allow them.

A recently formed coalition of area food truck owners have begun prodding Prescott city officials for answers on how they might eventually operate within the city’s limits.

“It’s frustrating to call Prescott home and to not be allowed to work,” said Ann Flaherty, owner of a food truck called Annie Thing Goes and member of the coalition, Mile High Mobile Food.

As it stands, food trucks are essentially illegal in Prescott.

“Operating a food truck is only permitted at special, limited duration events through a temporary use permit; so you can’t just operate a food truck,” said George Worley, planning manager for the City of Prescott.

There are a couple specific city statutes that prevent mobile food vendors from freely doing business, Worley explained.

One section of the city’s code says that no one may occupy a public right-of-way for commercial purposes. This prohibits, for instance, a food truck from parking on the side of a road and selling from that location.

When it comes to private property, the city’s land development code says that unless an operation falls under one of the temporary uses outlined in the code, then conduct of business has to be from a permanent structure.

While this portion of the land development code limits large mobile food operations to special events, it permits food carts that are 5-by-8 foot or smaller (e.g. a hot dog stand) to do regular business on private property as long as there is already an active primary business located in a permanent structure on that property.

This distinction was determined by Prescott’s city council just a few years ago.

Food cart operators formed a group — similar to Mile High Mobile Food — and managed to convince a majority of the city council members to change the code in their favor.

Worley said food trucks owners will have to do the same if they want more opportunities to work in Prescott.

This will likely prove difficult, however, for the primary concern regarding such changes has to do with competition.

“Unfair competition between someone who’s invested in a truck and someone who’s invested in a building, commercial kitchen and restaurant,” Worley said.

However, Worley said no studies have been done by the city to determine whether food trucks would, in fact, negatively impact brick-and-mortar businesses.

“Staff doesn’t have any hard data one way or the other,” he said.

What the city does know is traditional restaurants — especially those downtown — do not look fondly on relaxing laws for mobile food vendors. This is something the city is forced to take into account, Worley said.

“We generate a huge amount of revenue from our restaurant businesses,” he said. “Undercutting them in any way does not make financial sense to the city and the city council has been reluctant to make any changes that would adversely affect those businesses.”

Chino Valley, which allows food trucks to operate with quite a bit more freedom, is taking a slightly different approach to this matter of competition.

Katie Cornelius, Chino Valley’s parks and recreation coordinator, has been pushing to boost the presence of food trucks in the town and believes blocking the industry’s natural growth is inappropriate.

“To me, it’s not only discrimination, but it’s also very short sighted,” she said.

“I look at [the food truck industry] as a way to draw people to the area that haven’t been here for a while, and a resource to those who live here. It’s a great way to have an inexpensive meal on your way home that you might not have if it’s a sit-down restaurant.”

Flaherty and her fellow food truck drivers wish every municipality official in the area would think this way.

“We don’t want to fight,” Flaherty said. “We just want to work.”

To settle the matter, Mile High Mobile Food is proposing they and other food truck owners be allowed to work within a defined area determined by the city.

“They don’t want us on Whiskey Row, no problem,” said Dan Thomas, Mile High Mobile Food member and owner of two food trucks in Prescott, Iron Horse Grille and Red Pony Confectionery.

“But where can we work? Open up an area that makes sense. That’s our biggest push right now.”