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SA’s Food Truck Parks Can Be Havens or Headaches (or Both)

Photo: ESSENTIALS210, License: N/A

ESSENTIALS210

Chela’s Tacos takes up temporary residence at The Block, a park catering to the UTSA main campus crowd

Photo: RICO GOMEZ, License: N/A

RICO GOMEZ

A selection of trucks at a recent Boardwalk on Bulverde event

Photo: FILE PHOTO, License: N/A

FILE PHOTO

Cameron Davies, of Boardwalk on Bulverde, at his truck outfitting biz Cruising Kitchens



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Running the park isn’t his sole source of income, said Davies, who estimates he’ll build some 70 custom trucks by year’s end. “I do it for the trucks and the community; my business is next door,” he said.

As far as other parks go, Davies insists he sees them as friendly competition that serve to “raise awareness about mobile food.”

Know Your Code

The Boardwalk may have served as an early mock-up for food truck park success, but parks going into the heart of the city were met with a few more obstacles including infrastructure and an archaic rule, which asked parks to have written permission from any food establishment within 300 feet in order to park.

For instance, Jody and Steve Newman had looked into another Southtown spot before opening the Alamo Street Eat Bar (609 S Alamo) in March 2012. The original location would have required the Newmans to put in electricity, chairs and restrooms. When the location formerly known as the Acapulco Drive-Inn became available, the Newmans decided to lease the space.

“Alamo Street is about location, the trucks are getting prime real estate with a fun, organic atmosphere. We think it keeps the entrance to Southtown alive and kicking,” Jody Newman said of the plot that was slated to become a parking lot.

Yet the primo location came with its own unique risk, in the form of city ordinances that previously kept mobile food vendors from San Antonio’s core. The bustling area was already chockablock with restaurants; under the original ordinance, any of them within 300 feet of Alamo Street would be able to deny the permission to the various food trucks hoping to sell their wares.

This was amended slightly during the implementation of the Downtown Food Trucks Pilot Program in April 2012, which had hoped to infuse life into forgotten areas, but was a tough sell for truck owners who had to apply for a permit and get written permission from surrounding restaurants to use their restroom facilities. The program more or less fizzled out, but it did lead to more permanent changes for food truck courts.

A series of meetings, along with support from District 1 councilman Diego Bernal and the City Manager’s office, “which wanted the food truck ordinance to be smart progress for San Antonio,” according to Jody, helped herald amendments to City Code Chapter 35 of the Unified Development Code and Chapter 13 of the Food and Handlers Code of Ordinances in May 2012.

Recommendations came from the city zoning department and Metro Health. These changes allowed for the licensing of mobile food courts as long as they met certain requirements including parking, restrooms, electricity, potable water and sewage disposal (the parks would act as a commissary for the trucks, a place to replenish supplies and flush out their liquid waste storage. Currently, there are seven approved commissaries in San Antonio).

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