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Changes to Toronto's food truck laws set to go to committee next week

People wait in line to get food from 'Food Dudes' in Toronto's Nathan Phillips Square during the launch of Toronto's Food Truck Pilot Program July 25, 2013.

Gloria Nieto/The Globe and Mail

Toronto's street eats are in line for a major makeover this summer under proposed rules that would make it easier for food trucks to roam from spot to spot on city streets and set up in private lots.

The planned overhaul opens the door for more food vendors to operate in Toronto and settles a debate that has gone on for more than a decade over the best way to regulate a booming industry, that has evolved from hot dogs to gourmet grub.

"What we are trying to do is provide opportunities and by providing opportunities we will create a diverse food culture, which is what Toronto is starving for," said Carleton Grant, director of policy with the city's licensing and standards department.

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"The big objective of the report is to get a balance between carts, trucks and restaurants," he said. "If approved, Toronto could be seen as a leader in the food industry along with cities like Austin, Portland and Boston."

The changes are set to go to committee next Tuesday and to council in early April. The aim is to have them in place by the Victoria Day weekend.

Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon, a member of the licensing and standards committee who has pushed for more food trucks, called the move "great for tourists and Torontonians."

She predicts council will support the revamp. However, staff say some resistance could come from restaurant owners, local business associations and food-truck operators who hold one of the city's existing 27 "designated spaces." They will lose that privilege after a three-year phase-in period.

Under the proposed rules there would be no cap on the number of licences issued by the city, but there would be limits placed on their location and how long they can stay in one place. Licence holders could park in a "pay-and-display" spot, but would be prohibited from operating within 50 metres of a "licensed eating establishment that is open and operating" and within 30 metres of a school or place of worship. No more than two trucks would be allowed on any block. They would be allowed to park on city streets, but they would have to feed the meter and move on at the time limit. for the spot – like any other vehicle.

Councillors and local business improvement associations also would be able to ask that certain areas be "restricted zones" where vending would be limited or banned. Such requests could be appealed, with the final decision resting with the local community council.

Staff have mapped out more than 350 possible spots for trucks to operate across the city using the location of existing restaurants and pay-and-display parking areas on city streets. As well, the changes would lift restrictions on the use of commercial parking lots, allowing an unlimited number of trucks to operate on private property as long as zoning bylaw regulations are followed, opening up the potential for "pods" of trucks to gather as now happens in cities such as Portland.

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Food-cart operators would also see changes, with an expansion of the space they would be allowed to occupy. The current freeze on new street vendors downtown would continue, but under the new rules food cart vendors would be allowed to apply for permits in all parts of the city.

"It's about time, " said Councillor Josh Colle, who has been pushing for changes. Rather than threatening existing restaurants, he said, the new rules could bring the convenience of food trucks to under-serviced areas of the city.

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