Rifle considers changes to food truck policies

Ryan Hoffman

The city of Rifle could eliminate current boundary restrictions on the number of mobile food vendors allowed to operate in certain geographical areas — a proposal that recently drew mixed reviews from local businesses.

Council reached the compromise on March 16 in response to a request from a business owner who wants to have a food vending truck on the site of his existing business. However, the business is located in north Rifle, where there currently are no available mobile vendor licenses.

The city limits the number of temporary vendor licenses it issues in geographical locations. Currently, three are allowed in south Rifle, two are permitted in north Rifle and one is permitted in west Rifle; leaving the total number of available mobile vending licenses for food trucks at six.

The city does have the option of issuing three temporary licenses in the central business district for selling prepared food, but strict guidelines must be met. The permits for the central business district — which for the most part runs from Centennial Parkway north to Sixth Street and ends at East Avenue to the east, while expanding slightly farther west of West Avenue in some cases to the west of Railroad Avenue — exclude food trucks, according to the municipal code.

Most of the current guidelines were enacted in 2009 in response to concerns from brick-and-mortar restaurant owners who feared they would be at an unfair advantage, Nathan Lindquist, Rifle planning director, explained at the Council meeting.

Since the request from the business owner involved a food truck located on the same property of the owner’s existing business, Council was asked if the code should be amended and a special exception granted in such cases.

Some councilors worried that it would be impossible to shut the door once opening the regulations up to certain exceptions.

“I don’t have any issue with allowing a food truck under the circumstance that were raised here,” Mayor Pro-Tem Barb Clifton said. “My concern is that really what we’re doing, though, is … we just keep creating exception after exception and at some point when you continue to do that you have to look and see maybe we need to change the original rule and not just keep making exceptions.”

Clifton and others questioned if the overall number of mobile licenses needed to be increased, as well as whether the boundaries were necessary.

Most of the interest from people inquiring about the licenses seems to be in north Rifle, according to Lindquist, while there is less interest in the west Rifle license.

Currently the two licenses in north Rifle are already taken, as are two in south Rifle.

While some questioned if there was still a need to limit the number of trucks, opting instead to let consumers decide, Mayor Randy Winkler stated he thought it would be unfair to let an unlimited number of food trucks flood the area.

Ultimately Council agreed to eliminate the boundaries, a suggestion made by Councilor Annick Pruett, and keep the number of licenses at the current six.

The revisions likely will appear again before Council at its first meeting in April.

If the changes equate to a vendor with a food truck being able to move from one area to another without having to purchase multiple permits, it could benefit those vendors, said Kevin Kelley, who operates Lucky Dog hot dogs.

Kelley, who has operated in Rifle for the past five years, in addition to other locations in Garfield County, said Rifle already poses a number of hurdles to food truck operators. Eliminating the need, and the cost, of having multiple permits to operate in different quadrants of the city would be helpful.

However, several restaurant owners in north Rifle stated their opposition to the proposal, citing continued concerns about the potential impact to brick-and-mortar eateries.

After being briefed on the issue, Grady Hazelton, owner of WingNutz Bar and Grill in north Rifle, said his initial thought would be to keep the boundaries. If all six license holders were to inundate north Rifle, it would put WingNutz and other restaurants at an unfair advantage.

“It’s another place where people can spend their money,” he said.

Kelley noted that there are few businesses in Rifle that will allow a food truck to operate on their property. Still, he said he was curious how the city would regulate, if at all, the licenses to keep all six from flocking to one area of town.

Ken Sack, owner of Farm Fresh Cafe and Steakhouse, another restaurant in north Rifle, voiced his opposition to the proposal, saying it would pose an unfair advantage to restaurant owners who have higher overhead costs.

He also doubted there is enough demand in Rifle to support more food options.

“We have taxes, we have employees, we have rent and just to allow a food truck to come in and set up wherever, one, I don’t think it’s needed, and number two, I’d be pretty annoyed if a food truck set up right across from me or wherever …. “ Sack said.

That argument is a frustrating one, Kelley said, adding that he pays sales tax and also has expenses, including fuel costs and the cost of the license required to operate a food truck. Mobile vendors need a state license before they even apply for the city license, and they typically face increased scrutiny from the health department, he added. The opposition feels like a desire to not deal with competition.

“I basically do everything that a brick and mortar (restaurant) does and then I’m scrutinized,” Kelley said.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Glenwood Springs and Garfield County make the Post Independent’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.