Rolling Stoves employee Christina Mansfield, from Farmington, serves french fries and onion rings to Pati Bartlett, from Farmington Hills, during a Food Truck Rally in downtown Farmington in 2014.

Rolling Stoves employee Christina Mansfield, from Farmington, serves french fries and onion rings to Pati Bartlett, from Farmington Hills, during a Food Truck Rally in downtown Farmington in 2014.

File photo by Sarah Purlee

A call to revisit food truck rules in Farmington

By: Jonathan Shead | Farmington Press | Published August 12, 2019


FARMINGTON — Two and a half years after Farmington’s local mobile food vending ordinance was unanimously approved by the City Council, food truck owners and some members of the council are saying the ordinance is too restrictive.

The ordinance was enacted in February 2017.

John Mansfield, 30, a Farmington resident and the owner of The Rolling Stoves food truck, which has been serving food around metro Detroit for seven years, has rarely ever set up his food truck in his hometown because he believes the local ordinance for mobile food vendors is “unbelievably limiting.”

Of primary concern for Mansfield are the number of times a food truck can secure a permit to serve food in the city — three times per calendar year — the distance from existing brick-and-mortar restaurants that food trucks have to be — 150 feet — and the cost per permit to operate each time — $150.

“This is the worst city in the metro Detroit area to deal with,” Mansfield said. “There’s nobody else that’s like this. You may have to fill out some paperwork in other cities, but they’re not limiting the number of times.”

Mansfield added that by limiting the number of permits allotted to each food truck, it forces food truck owners like himself to “play mind games,” picking and choosing when they want to request a permit to serve their food in the city.

While Councilwoman Maria Taylor said she’s in favor of having an ordinance to steer the application process, which before was arbitrarily decided by the City Council, she agrees that the number of permits one food truck can acquire per calendar year is limiting.

“We’re telling them we don’t want them in Farmington. I don’t think that’s the opinion of the general public,” she said. “If you tell them they can only come a certain number of times a year and you tell them they can’t come downtown, that really puts a blanket on having food trucks at all in Farmington.”

Taylor said that while campaigning for her council seat, and into the present day, she’s talked to people in a variety of age groups, from seniors to families and millennials, and many of them wish to see more food trucks downtown, especially at events like the city’s Friday night concert series, Rhythms in Riley Park.

Farmington Mayor Steven Schneemann said that when the ordinance was enacted, its primary purpose was to strike a balance between having provisions that allow food trucks to come to the city and the interests of existing brick-and-mortar restaurants that pay taxes to the city.

“It’s a glass half-full, glass half-empty kind of discussion. It has restrictions, but it also allows for food trucks to be there, where before we never really had anything that said food trucks could operate in the downtown area,” Schneemann said. “As a City Council, we have to watch out for the interests of the taxpayers — business and property owners — as well as the residents and what they’re looking for.

“There is a potential that by allowing (food trucks), then you’re taking away business from a person that’s selling a similar product down the street who’s paying taxes to the district and really supporting the city.”

However, Taylor said she doesn’t think it’s the government’s place to discourage competition, and she said she believes that lifting the limitations on food trucks “could help improve the restaurant scene” in downtown Farmington as well.

With many of Farmington’s brick-and-mortar restaurants closing around 10-11 p.m. because they don’t feel they have sufficient business to stay open later, Taylor said that by not limiting where food trucks can position themselves, in order to be downtown, it may “also create more of a population who would be interested in going to restaurants essentially later as well.”

Mansfield agreed, saying that being less restrictive about how often and where food trucks can park downtown could potentially bring in people from outside the community as well.

“Foodies are a real thing. People follow us. You want people to see your city, and what better way to bring people in?”

Mansfield recently acquired property to open up a brick-and-mortar The Rolling Stoves restaurant at 20780 Farmington Road, next to Dunkin Donuts, set to open in late August or early September. He said he would love to welcome other food trucks to share his parking lot if the ordinance allowed it.

“I’m not afraid of that. If you have good food, you have nothing to worry about the food truck coming for a couple hours,” he said. “I just don’t understand. From a business standpoint, if you have eyes on your building, that’s what you want.”

Taylor said she attempted to add a discussion about the ordinance onto the council’s 2018 goals list, which is reviewed every other year in January after elections, but a discussion still hasn’t occurred.

“I’d like to review it as soon as possible. I’ve wanted to ever since before I got elected,” Taylor said.

Overall, Mansfield said he’s just happy to find a place in his own community where he can establish a restaurant and share his food with his neighbors and the people he grew up with.