City Council's Committee on the Built Environment this morning approved new rules for food vendors, capping a years-long conversation about ways in which Seattle could invigorate its street-food scene.
"We're hopeful this legislation will significantly expand street-food vending," the Department of Planning and Development's Gary Johnson told council members after they unanimously passed the bill and a related resolution directing the Seattle Department of Transportation to administer and monitor the program.
Under the new rules, food-cart vendors will be able to sell an expanded selection of food in a variety of new venues.
The committee agreed to a number of Council-proposed changes to the original bill, most of which were designed to head off potential citizen complaints and limit an unwieldy proliferation of trucks. Changes included extending the public-comment period following a vendor's application; lengthening school and business setbacks; allowing only two trucks in a designated "food-truck zone," and requiring vendors to post "complaint line" information.
The committee also agreed to declare the Pike Place Market historic district off-limits for food trucks. While chair Sally Clark said she doubted a vendor could find a right-of-way location in the district that complied with the setback requirements (trucks must be situated at least 15 feet from the nearest business entrance or exit), she endorsed the "belts and suspenders" approach.
Truck spots will be distributed by lottery, despite grumbling from a few restaurant owners that the methodology unfairly subsidizes street vendors. They had suggested the city sell the spots at market value.
"We didn't feel the benefits outweighed the costs," planner Brian De Place told the committee.
According to De Place, the rules were developed "to allow more entry-level entrepreneurs to establish themselves within the city."
"If you raise the bar, you've priced them out of the market," he said, adding that corporate franchises would likely take over many of the prime truck spots if the city sold them to the highest bidder.
Committee vice chair Tim Burgess allowed the legislation might still evolve. "It's the beginning of an experiment," he said. "We can make adjustments, but the concept is a very good thing."
City Council is slated to review the bill at its Monday meeting.