Neighbors in Arden Hills, craving some good food and safe socializing last summer, invited a food truck to their cul-de-sac on Friday evenings.
"Our neighborhood is so close knit. Everyone was hurting," said organizer Melissa Cordes. "Everyone wanted to feel like they were doing something to support local businesses and to support people who felt especially isolated."
The gatherings proved wildly popular, with as many as 150 neighbors attending each week as "Food Truck Fridays" enters its second summer. A second neighborhood is now also hosting food trucks, and those events have been promoted more broadly on social media.
But the events have some quietly grumbling in this Ramsey County suburb of 10,000, and city leaders — citing complaints about traffic, trash and noise — are now considering a stricter food truck ordinance.
The City Council on Monday will take up proposed rules that would require residents to get a $20 residential food truck permit. Each resident would be limited to two permits a year and would face a $100 fee for any violations.
That permit would be in addition to a $30 municipal food truck license that vendors already need to operate in the city.
Resident Sheri Hansen said the council proposal feels heavy-handed and out of step with other suburbs that are loosening the reins on some regulations, rather than adding more.
"This helped us keep our sense of community strong during a really hard time," Hansen said. "I really feel like we did everything we could to make this safe and fun. This is such a bummer they are coming down so hard on us."
Cordes said she feels frustrated the council didn't take public comment at two council workshops where food trucks were discussed, but was pleased Mayor David Grant accepted her neighborhood's invitation to stop by the food truck event on Friday to learn more.
"It sounds like they are willing to listen to us and to perhaps come up with a more permissive ordinance," Cordes said.
She said nearly 200 residents have signed a petition in support of the neighborhood gatherings. According to city staff, there's been one official complaint filed about food trucks, but council members have also been approached by dismayed residents.
Grant said the proposed ordinance "does not stop residents from hosting food trucks, but rather sets expectations for everyone to follow."
"As mayor and members of the City Council, we hear from residents all over our city both for and against allowing food trucks on residential properties, and we need to strike the right balance of perspectives," he said.
Cordes said she and her neighbors have worked to follow the city's existing food truck ordinance. The event is limited to their neighborhood, she said, and traffic is minimal.
They typically invite one or two trucks each week — one serving a main course and occasionally a second vendor who sells ice cream or sweets. Cordes said she personally surveys the street after each event.
"I go out after every food truck to specifically make sure nothing is accidentally left behind," she said. "I have never had to pick up a piece of trash."
The event draws people of all ages, from families with small children to empty nesters and seniors. Last summer, local sheriff deputies who patrol the city stopped by to visit with neighbors — a positive interaction that strengthens the community, Cordes said.
"It felt like something that was positive and good," Hansen said.
Shannon Prather • 651-925-5037