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February 20, 2018

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Mayor’s proposed ordinance tries to stop food fight

Bill would regulate how close, how long food trucks could park near restaurants


Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Longtime Fremont Street eatery Uncle Joe’s Pizza is seen Tuesday, July 24, 2012.

Proposed food truck ordinance

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Longtime Fremont Street eatery Uncle Joe's Pizza is seen Tuesday, July 24, 2012.

Map of Uncle Joe's Pizza

Uncle Joe's Pizza

505 Fremont Street, Las Vegas

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Curi Kim takes orders at The Chairman truck at the South Point Gourmet Food Truck Fest in the parking lot of the South Point in Las Vegas Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2012. Launch slideshow »

For a small-business owner in downtown Las Vegas, this was a night to remember. Or one he’d rather forget and hopes never happens again.

Bush Xhindi, owner of Uncle Joe’s Pizza, one of the longtime mainstays on East Fremont Street (it’s one of a few storefronts sandwiched between buildings recently purchased by the Zappos-oriented Downtown Project), couldn’t believe his eyes.

There, in front of his pizza joint, was parked a food truck. And it was selling pizza, no less. This was two or three months ago, and it happened two nights in a row.

Xhindi said the truck owner told him that “Zappos told him it was OK to do that.”

So Xhindi talked “to Zappos,” he said. The people at Zappos told Xhindi they had nothing to do with it.

The short of the story is: Xhindi doesn’t want food trucks near his restaurant.

Neither do some other East Fremont Street restaurants. It’s not that they want food trucks banned; they just don’t want them to be able to park so close to their businesses that they suck away potential customers.

The result of the dispute is a new ordinance to be considered next month by the Las Vegas City Council. Outside of those vendors who obtain special use permits, the proposal would allow food trucks to be parked no closer than 150 feet from an existing business and for up to four hours in a 24-hour time period.

The bill, introduced by Mayor Carolyn Goodman, also limits the time a food truck can do business in the public right-of-way — parked at a curb, for instance — to 30 minutes. That wording would prohibit long-term parking on streets in front of a business like Uncle Joe’s.

The proposal would, though, allow up to two food trucks with a conditional use permit to park for four hours over 24 hours in a lot. And business owners could park their own, or someone else’s food truck, on their own property with no time restrictions.

Michael Cornthwaite, who operates The Beat coffeehouse and Downtown Cocktail Room, both within shouting distance from Uncle Joe’s, said people downtown see both sides. Generally, they feel 150 feet is too short of a distance and 1,000 feet is too much.

Cornthwaite stresses that he thinks the trucks are good for downtown because of the foot traffic they can drive to an area. “They bring excitement and energy here,” he said.

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Longtime Fremont Street eatery Uncle Joe's Pizza is seen Tuesday, July 24, 2012.

But restaurant owners also tell Cornthwaite, who is a touchstone for downtown business owners because of his seven-year foothold there, food trucks have an advantage because they don’t pay taxes or rent.

Restaurants, the owners point out, are permanent while the food trucks mostly show up only on weekends when the area is teeming with people. The restaurant owners feel the food trucks are simply trying to cash in but have no real stake in the downtown area, Cornthwaite said.

“Several of the local restaurant operators feel like, if the trucks draw their own crowd, they should come on a Sunday or Tuesday night, not a Saturday at 10 p.m.,” he added.

Goodman said she requested the draft bill as a way to find a middle ground between the growing food truck industry and protection for existing bricks-and-mortar restaurants.

“We’ve listened to the restaurant owners and food truck owners during several stakeholder meetings, and we’ve come up with what I believe is a fair compromise that addresses the needs of both groups and will enhance the downtown dining experience,” she said.

She touched on the issue of expenses — permanent businesses pay property taxes and/or rent while trucks do not — by changing how food truck license fees are assessed.

Instead of a $100 license fee paid per year, food truck vendors would pay a fee twice yearly based on gross sales. A vendor earning $135,000 to $180,000 in six months, for instance, would pay $100 — then another $100 if they earn that much in the next six months.

City documents say 140 businesses potentially affected by the bill were contacted for opinions. Only 10 replied and none of those 10 were food truck operators. In general, the respondents said food trucks needed more regulation and 150 feet was too short of a distance between the trucks and existing businesses.

Councilman Bob Coffin, whose ward includes parts of downtown, agrees.

“We’ve got to protect our restaurants,” Coffin said.

Xhindi said he would like to see the distance between trucks and restaurants legally increased to one mile.

Or he’d just like a little courtesy from the food truck vendors. If the owner of that pizza truck parked in front of his store had simply talked to him, he said, they could have worked out some kind of agreement.

“Instead, they say, ‘We’ll be disrespectful,’ and did not talk to me like a man,” Xhindi said.

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