Gourmet food trucks collide with confusing Denver regulations

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Gourmet food trucks were the surprise hit of 2010 -- by December, over 150 mobile food vendors had been licensed in Denver, which almost put the movement on par with the medical-marijuana dispensary business. And like dispensaries, the food trucks have been causing some headaches for the city -- and definitely vice versa.

Yesterday afternoon, a Denver City Council committee met to consider a draft of a Food Truck Guide, which pulls together all the current rules affecting the industry in a new format, one that is supposed to be clearer.

Five different city departments are involved -- public works (since the trucks frequently park on public streets and use the right-of-way), environmental health (which licenses food-prep operations), planning (which includes zoning), excise and licenses, and parks (if the trucks plan to use the parks). Maneuvering their way through all these agencies has been confusing for truck owners, causing some, including the Denver Cupcake Truck, to ground their mobile operations altogether (and for mayoral candidate Chris Romer to take up cupcakes as a cause).

"I appreciate the agencies coming together," said committee co-chair Doug Linkhart, another mayoral candidate. "There's been quite an uproar. Part of that uproar caused by lack of clarity."

Enough of an uproar that the committee room was packed with truck entrepreneurs, as well as an overflow crowd of thirty watching the proceedings in another room upstairs at City Hall. But after an hour of discussion, it was clear there was no clarity.

"Let's make sure we all understand what the rules are before we change them," said Denver City Council President Chris Nevitt, who then asked everyone in the room, "Are you confident you know exactly what the rules are?"

No hands were raised -- not even at the table where the councilmembers sat.

Councilwoman Carla Madison was volunteered to head a task force that will work with truck owners, restaurant owners, neighborhood leaders and others to clean up the draft of the current rules. But that's not all: The task force will also propose some changes to regulations that were established at least a decade ago, and in some cases, in the much more distant past, long before anyone envisioned gourmet food trucks taking off. For example, one requirement is that trucks not park within 200 feet of each other -- which would make all those hip, happening Justice League events of the past few months completely illegal.

For now, the buck -- and the truck -- stops here, where you can read the draft Food Truck Guide.

More from our Calhoun: Wake-Up Call archive: "Trader Joe's: Colorado would be more colorful if the store would join IKEA -- but will it?"

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