Hattiesburg to look over ordinance regarding local food trucks

By HASKEL BURNS,

Because the city of Hattiesburg doesn’t currently have a specific ordinance regarding food trucks, mobile food vendors must instead operate under the definition of a transient vendor and are issued a transit vendor license to work in the city.

To remedy that and make the review and approval process easier for food trucks and mobile vendors, Russell Archer, who serves as historic preservation planner for the city, has proposed to Hattiesburg City Council a new ordinance that would help the city be more complimentary of the food truck business model.

“We’re limited to the transient vendor license permit process as the only option we have to grant them access right now,” said Archer, who presented the ordinance Monday. “The primary limitation of that is that it’s a six-month license to operate.

“We have a lot of interest from the community about more food trucks coming in to town, and more opportunities for them to set up in various areas of the city.

“A lot of them want to be able to operate year-round, without having to come in every six months to reinstate their permit. And right now, we don’t give them a whole lot of options as far as where they can and cannot locate, and we’re also not very specific about some of our regulations in terms of how they comply with health department rules.”

The proposed ordinance encourages all potential vendors to submit a full-scale plan to be reviewed by the city on a case-by-case basis. The plan will then be approved or disapproved, or in some cases more information will be requested in order to determine if the plan jeopardizes public health, welfare, and safety of residents.

Under the ordinance, approved entities would be granted a permit to operate year-round as a mobile food vendor.

“It also allows us to gather important information from those purveyors to make sure they’re following the proper regulations, that they have all the proper approval from the health department, that we know where they are located,” Archer said. “Part of the application process is for them to give us the specific locations they would like to operate in, so that we can double-check and make sure those are acceptable.

“We also need to make sure that area is properly zoned for doing business. The nice thing about this ordinance is that it doesn’t affect their ability to do what they’re currently doing, which is to operate during special events and festivals.”

Samantha McCain, the city’s chief communication officer, said a critical element to review for mobile food vendors is their access to an approved waste site.

“Ideally, this may be a partnership with a local restaurant that has an adequate dumpster and grease trap and hot/cold water wash so that food waste and food prep waste can be properly disposed of,” she said. “Food trucks are also required to adhere to certain fire protection codes.

“Once a transient vendor has the transient vendor license through the city’s tax division, the Planning Division can turn around approvals for specific locations pretty quickly – same day or next day is our aim.”