Commission approves food trailer; trucks still on hold

ALPENA – People visiting Starlite Beach may have another option in purchasing food and drinks, as the Alpena Planning Commission voted to approve a request by Greg Konwinski to operate a food trailer in the rear of the parking lot at Lee’s Miniture Golf. The business, which will be called The Hungry Hippie, still will have to wait for Alpena Municipal Council to approve the site plan and get the proper permitting, but hopes to open soon.

The move comes on the heels of the city and Alpena Downtown Development Authority working to create a new ordinance that will allow food trucks to operate in the city.

Planning and Development Director Adam Poll said the new food trailer doesn’t fall under the parameter of a food truck because it will be stationary and not move from site to site. He said the plan was reviewed and approved by city staff and then approved by the planning commission.

“It will sit alongside the motel, but is on the property of the miniature golf course and will operate from May until sometime in October,” Poll said. “It will be adjacent to the park, so basically anyone at the park can potentially utilize its services. This is different than a mobile food unit. He wants to get going as soon as possible, and although the ordinance will probably apply to him in the future we considered this a site plan and it got approved.”

Konwinski said he believes his business will fill a demand at the beach and plans on offering quick service and healthy menu options.

“The Hungry Hippie will fill a void that has long been lacking at the beach, most successful community beaches have access to some sort of outdoor food vendor,” Konwinski said. “As this dream gets closer to reality, support from friends and those in the community have been great and almost every aspect of the project has been done locally.”

Business people who are hoping to operate mobile trucks will more than likely have to wait a bit longer before they are allowed to sell food around town. Poll said a committee has been formed and ideas being exchanged on how mobile food trucks will be regulated in the city and to be sure the new business practice doesn’t jeopardize business at existing restaurants.

Poll said the committee is made up of potential food truck owners, as well as store owners. Public safety officials and the DDA also are represented on the committee.

“It is an ongoing process and we have been working with both the food truck owners, as well as the brick and mortar restaurants as well,” Poll said. “We want an ordinance that is palatable for everyone, unfortunately we’re coming at from two very different sides. When it does get passed, I don’t know if it is going to please everyone or be completely happy. Right now it is pretty divisive.”

The biggest stumbling block is fear by restaurant owners over trucks parking too close to their businesses and customers choosing the food truck over the established store. Poll said he has been researching ordinances in other communities and got some ideas from them. He said the concern is one that was shared in other cities and they have been able to overcome them, for the most part.

“This is not unique to Alpena. It was an issue in Traverse City; Kalamazoo has had issues with it. Grand Rapids has had issues with it and they have all had this same discussion,” Poll said. “I borrowed the wording from other ordinances and basically proposed the trucks not be allowed to park any closer than 150 feet, which seems to be the average in other places. That is what we’re looking at right now.”

Poll said the regulation would apply for both city and public property. He said a person who owns property next to a restaurant, or is granted permission to use it, still cannot have the food truck inside the 150 foot perimeter.

“We are trying to find a solution and a compromise that will work for everyone,” Poll said. “We want to have a vehicle to make sure this ends up as fair as possible for everyone.”

Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanews. Read his blog, Upon Further Review … at www.thealpenanews.com