Food Trucks – New Planning Presentations in October

Clearzoning President Rod Arroyo will be speaking twice in October on the topic of planning challenges and opportunities related to mobile food vending.  On October 3, he will address the North Carolina Planning Conference in Raleigh.  The following Thursday, October 9, Rod will be speaking at the Grand Hotel as part of the Michigan Chapter of APA’s annual conference.

For more information, Rod Arroyo and Jill Bahm authored a Zoning Practice issue on this topic for the American Planning Association (September 2013 – Vol. 30, No.9).  A summary of the presentation is provided via the links below:

Food Truck Handout from Clearzoning

Powerpoint Presentation – Food Trucks -  Clearzoning

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Clearzoning, Inc. Welcomes New Staff Members

Clearzoning, Inc. is pleased to announce the addition of two new staff members to the Clearzoning Team.

Margaret (Mardy) Stirling joins the firm as a Senior Planner, with extensive experience at the local government level. Mardy is the former Deputy Director of Planning for the City of Royal Oak (Oakland County, Michigan) and the former Planning Director for Hartland Township in Livingston County, Michigan.  She has a Master of Urban and Regional Planning degree from Michigan State University.

Joseph (Joe) Tangari joins Clearzoning as an Associate Planner.  Joe previously worked as a planner for the City of Hazel Park (Oakland County, Michigan) and as a research associate for Wayne State University, where he conducted a baseline assessment of the impact of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s (MEDC) Redevelopment Ready Communities Program. He has a Master of Urban Planning degree from Wayne State University.

We welcome Mardy and Joe to our team!



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US Economic Development Administration Approves City of Wixom Plan

Busy sidewalk in the Village Center area of Wixom.

Busy sidewalk in the Village Center area of Wixom.

The US Department of Commerce, Economic Development Administration, recently approved the City of Wixom’s 2014 Economic Development Strategy developed with assistance from a team of planning, branding, and economic development consultants. This team, led by Lathrup Village-based Clearzoning, Inc., presented the final plan to City Council in June 2014. The plan was designed to create a broad framework for attracting and retaining businesses and building upon the existing assets of the City.

At the council meeting, City Manager Tony Nowicki, summarized the economic development project as having three main components: 1) an assessment of the City’s assets and strategies to help fill gaps in the market for industrial, retail, and research and development businesses; 2) a guide to an efficient land development review process within the City; and 3) the development of the City’s unique “brand voice”—an understanding of who the City is, what it has to offer, and how that message is best shared.  Strategies to strengthen the attractiveness of the workforce through education and specialized training are also included. In addition, the project team shared opportunities to facilitate collaborations between existing businesses and potential new businesses.

Howard Kohn, president of The Chesapeake Group, part of the project team, summarized opportunities identified through this process, including the potential for five million or more square feet of “industrial” space in the next ten years. He noted that “Some will be traditional manufacturing and some will be “new” office/industrial manufacturing.” Site Specific Opportunities were discussed. The strategy acknowledges the need for additional training in certain targeted areas (e.g., software testing, IT training, robotics, and health care).

Rod Arroyo, president of Clearzoning, described the electronic Development Manual that the City can use online to help applicants, staff, and officials understand the review process. This helpful guide contains flowcharts, illustrations, and hyperlinks to relevant documents, applications, and code requirements. It improves customer service and streamlines the development review process.

Brent Eastman, formerly of Identity, now with Alchemy Group, worked with the planning team on brand strategy. The resulting concept was developed through interviews and surveys of residents, business owners, staff, and City officials. The team found that while the City has a great deal to offer, it seems to be a well-kept secret. The City should try to raise the awareness of its amenities through consistent messaging that includes the idea that the City is “close to everything, but far from ordinary.”


About the City of Wixom

Recipient of the University of Michigan – Dearborn School of Management’s Metro Detroit 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012 Entrepreneurial City Award, Wixom is one of the premier communities in Oakland County. The 9.35-square mile City of approximately 13,500 people is located along the I-96 corridor of Oakland County, Michigan. It is within driving distance of three major internationally known universities, two airports, a variety of recreation opportunities, and a diverse housing stock. Home to over 700 businesses, Wixom’s business friendly management philosophy and organizational culture make it an ideal community to locate and operate a business.  The City’s major employers include Moeller Manufacturing Company, Mac Valves, Inc. and Adept Plastic Inc.  The City employs a balanced approach to land use development with a mix of high-quality residential living and a strong diverse industrial base.  Wixom has one of the lowest tax rates in the state in its population class, one of the lowest combined water and sewer rates in Oakland County and boasts of one of the finest school districts in the state.  For more information about the Economic Development Strategy, please contact Debra Barker, Business Development Liaison, at 248-624-3280 or

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Fairmont, West Virginia Ready to Streamline Zoning Code

The City of Fairmont, WV, courtesy of Mainstreet Fairmont.

The City of Fairmont, WV, image courtesy of Mainstreet Fairmont.

Clearzoning is pleased to be working with the city of Fairmont, West Virginia on a project to transform their zoning code with a new layout, graphics, and organization. This update will result in an ordinance that is available online and in paper format. The new code will be particularly useful in its electronic format, where hyperlinks between sections will help users better understand how zoning regulations impact new development and redevelopment. This new code will allow users to get the answers to basic zoning questions any time of the day or night, saving time for the user as well as for City staff.

Additional information on this project is available from the City of Fairmont, and from the Times West Virginian, in an article published on June 25, 2014.

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Watertown Township in Clinton County, Michigan Adopts New Zoning Code Based on Clearzoning Format

Watertown Township’s Zoning Ordinance Has Improved Format Using Clearzoning

We are pleased to announce that Watertown Township in Clinton County, Michigan is our newest Clearzoning community. Watertown is the first municipality in Clinton Township to enhance its zoning code by adding the online functionality, new organization, and graphic enhancements from Clearzoning.

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Planning Trends for 2014 – What Trends are Impacting Community Planning and Real Estate?

Sessions at the 2014 National Planning Conference in Atlanta and other recent research have shed light on important planning trends emerging in our new post-recession economy. The following highlights some key findings:

Aging Population
The population within the 7-county Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) region is currently about 4.71 million people (December 2013). Between 2010 and 2040, this population is expected to grow by a total of 8 % (4.70 to 4.74 million people). Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG)

The senior population (65+) in the SEMCOG region is expected to grow by 85 % between 2010 and 2040. The youth population (under 18 years) is expected to decline by 13.8 % during this same period. SEMCOG

Low Birth Rate
The U.S. fertility rate in 2012 of 63.0 births per 1,000 women ages 15-44 years. This is the lowest birth rate since the government started tracking this statistic in 1909 (when the birth rate was 127 per 1,000). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Shifting Housing Preferences
Two demographic cohorts are driving the transformation of residential and non-residential development: 1) aging baby boomers – born 1946-1964 – now in their 50s and 60s and pursuing empty-nester lifestyles and 2) young echo-boomers – born 1977 to 1995 – now in their 20s and early 30s, also known as Gen Y or Millennials. They want to live in high-density, urban environments, not suburbs. They are tech-savvy and socially-interconnected – they don’t find suburban office developments attractive places to work. James Hughes, Rutgers University

By 2040, 40 % of the demand for new housing will be for attached and multiple-family units and another 35 % of the demand will be for smaller lots. Arthur C. Nelson, University of Utah

Millennials Are Impacting Housing Another Way
Lack of savings, less-than-perfect credit and stifling loads of student-loan debt are continuing to hold young adults back from homeownership. This is reducing the number of buyers in the market. Wall Street Journal Marketplace, May 12, 2014

Sweeping Changes Affecting Non-Residential Space
70% of new non-residential space will be developed on existing developed lots. Arthur C. Nelson, University of Utah

Suburban-centric, auto-dependent office corridors are out of fashion and may have run their course. Suburbs are oversupplied and underdemolished. Millennials don’t want assigned office space. They seek collaborative open meeting space, working lounges, and work-at-home options. James Hughes, Rutgers University

We also have a reduced need for office space due to the decline in state and local government jobs (lowest since World War II). Robert Burchell, Rutgers University

Personal savings rate (% of disposable income saved) was over 15 % in 1975; it’s now 3.8 % (up from a low of 2 % in 2005). Much of the current increase in salaries is going to savings and paying down debt. Households lost 25 % of net worth from 2007-2012. Increased savings and use of internet commerce means demand for retail space is down. Robert Burchell, Rutgers University

Other trends
Fast food breakfast sales are up. More people are dining out, but client-related dining (big ticket) is down. Divorce rates are down and aging parents are moving in with older grown children. People tend to stick together during a down economy. Robert Burchell, Rutgers University

In addition to the above, other technology changes such as 3D printing will likely lead to reduced inventory for many retailers. If an item can be custom ordered on demand and shipped out next day, there is little need to maintain costly inventory. These trends should be considered when communities review Master Plans. Demographic changes will also impact recreation plans, transportation plans, and more.

Planning concepts to consider include providing policy guidance for redevelopment and infill sites; considering alternative uses to fill vacant industrial, office, and retail uses; encouraging new medical and educational facilities (which are expanding land uses) to use vacant commercial and industrial buildings; and plan for integration of housing for an aging population into a walkable network linked to convenience shopping, medical, and recreation uses.

Want to learn more? Let us know if you have a topic of interest that you would like a future newsletter to explore.

Link to PDF of above post: May – June Clearzoning news – Trends

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Food Truck Feeding Frenzy: Making Sense of Mobile Food Vending

Food Truck Feeding Frenzy: Making Sense of Mobile Food Vending

Food Truck Feeding Frenzy: Making Sense of Mobile Food Vending

Link: Slides from the APA Conference Presentation by Rod Arroyo

Recent economic and cultural trends show an explosion in the popularity of food trucks, or mobile vendors, over the past several years. According to research done by Emergent for the National Restaurant Association, the growth of mobile food trucks will soar in the next five years, generating up to $2.7 billion in revenue nationally by 2017—up from $650 million in 2012 (Emergent Research 2012). All across the country, cities, small towns, and suburbs are seeing food trucks popping up, some in unexpected places like office and industrial parks, where zoning ordinances typically preclude restaurants. Amplifying the push for food trucks are the twin trends of “buying local” and “food-as-entertainment” that are enhanced by programs such as the Great Food Truck Race on the Food Network. While ice cream trucks and job-site lunch wagons haven’t disappeared, they are increasingly being joined by gourmet trucks and trucks specializing in ethnic offerings.

All across the United States, people are exploring how mobile food vending might make a difference in their lives and their communities. More resources are starting to become available for potential business owners. Networks for mobile food vendors are growing; the Southern California Mobile Food Vendors Association was formed in 2010 as one of the first associations dedicated to helping vendors break down barriers to business ( And, in Fall 2013, Roam — a first ever industry conference for mobile food suppliers and owners— took place in Portland, Oregon.

What Is Mobile Food Vending?

Regulatory codes for many communities recognize transient merchants—those goods and services provided by a traveling vendor. The typical ice cream truck would be a good example of a transient merchant who is mobile most of the time, stopping only when requested, and even then for a few short minutes. Many of today’s food trucks or carts, however, are seeking more than a few minutes on the street, sidewalk, or parking lot, staying in place for a few hours to service breakfast, lunch, or dinner. In fact, when located on private property, some food trucks may be in one location for days, weeks, or even months. It is important to make a distinction between the food vendors that are more transient in nature, like an ice cream truck, and those who seek to move about less frequently. Both types of uses can offer benefits to the community, and they will each have different potential issues to regulate.

Many mobile food vendors utilize self-driven vehicles that permit easy relocation throughout the community. However, mobile food vending also includes trailers, food kiosks, and food carts. Food kiosks are temporary stands or booths that are typically intended to sell prepared foods, including ice cream, pretzels, and the like. Food kiosks may be found inside a large office building or shopping mall, but may be secured for outside use. Some communities, like Maui County, Hawaii, allow a variety of products to be sold at a kiosk, provided certain standards are met. While temporary in structure, food kiosks are often stationary with a defined location. Food carts allow the vendor to sell from outside the portable unit and are often used to sell fresh fruits and vegetables. Typically, the food in kiosks and carts is prepared elsewhere and kept cold or hot in the unit. The City of New York encourages “green carts” that offer fresh produce in certain areas of the city and has special regulations for these uses (

In communities across the U.S., mobile food vendors are seeking permits to start these innovative businesses. They often run into roadblocks at city hall, because while many zoning ordinances include provisions for temporary uses, most do not contain current definitions for mobile food vending nor do they include any standards that specifically relate to vending and the issues that may arise. The net result in many communities, whether intentionally or unintentionally, is a prohibition on mobile food vending.

The Pros and Cons of Mobile Food Vending

Over the past few years, most of the economy has been struggling, and the workforce has been challenged to adapt. With laid-off workers trying to reinvent themselves and new immigrants looking for opportunities, the number of people starting new businesses is rising. Mobile food vending seems, for some, like a low-cost way to wade into the pool of business ownership. There are a number of reasons why communities may elect to sanction mobile food vending:

  • It provides an opportunity to increase jobs and businesses. The cost of starting a food truck business can start at $25,000, where a traditional bricks-mortar establishment may start at $300,000, according to research by Intuit for the National Restaurant Association.
  • It offers opportunities to provide food choices where zoning precludes restaurants. Traditional zoning codes tend to restrict the uses permitted in office and industrial districts, only allowing uses that narrowly meet the intent of those districts. Office and industrial parks, in particular, are often isolated from the rest of the community, requiring employees to make vehicular trips to retail and restaurant areas. In addition, some communities may not enjoy a variety of healthy, fresh foods, and may encourage such food vendors in certain neighborhoods by relaxing requirements. New York’s green carts initiative allows additional permits to be issued over the city’s defined limit to mobile food vendors that offer fresh produce in underserved neighborhoods, and Kansas City, Missouri, offers reduced permit fees for mobile food vendors in city parks that meet certain nutritional standards (Parks and Recreation Vending Policy 4.7.08).
  • It can increase activity in struggling business districts by creating a dynamic environment where people gather around the availability of new and fresh food. The economy has taken a toll on businesses over the past several years. Those that are hanging on in some areas find that their neighboring buildings or businesses are vacant. Food trucks can be a way to enliven an area, generating traffic for existing businesses and possibly spinning off new business activity. The restaurant industry is evolving to meet the demands of patrons who are looking for locally grown, sustainable, healthy, and fast options for dining. When food trucks use social media to communicate about their location schedules, it can build up a certain level of excitement and anticipation that can make a positive social impact. In addition, the rising trend of “cart-pods” and “food truck rallies” brings multiple mobile food vendors to one location, creating a festive atmosphere in an area for a short time.
  • They signal to other potential businesses that the community is adapting to the evolving economy and supporting entrepreneurship. Mobile food trucks are a new way of doing business; in these early years, communities that anticipate the demand from businesses and consumers may also find that this flexibility signals receptivity to new business models.
  • They are a way for restaurateurs to test the local market for future bricks-and-mortar facilities. Mobile food trucks offer opportunities to interact with a potential market, to test recipes, pricing, and see if the restaurant is a fit with the community. All across the U.S., there are examples of food truck businesses evolving into permanent establishments, including El Camion (“the truck”) in northwest Seattle that has recently opened a restaurant and bar in the Ballard neighborhood after several years of experience with its two mobile food units. Torchy’s Tacos in Austin, Texas, started with a food truck and now has eight bricks-and-mortar restaurants in Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, and Houston—and two more opening this year. The Lunch Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan is due to open its bricks-and-mortar location soon, using social media to solicit fans of its existing “Mark’s Carts” to become investors in the restaurant.

Along with these potential benefits can come community impacts and possible conflicts. Some of the challenges associated with mobile food trucks might include problems with maintenance, trash, parking, noise, and vehicular and pedestrian circulation. In addition, some restaurateurs may be threatened by this new competition and may try to prevent mobile food vending. Food trucks also have their own operational challenges, including dealing with unpredictable weather and maintaining an appropriate inventory, given limited storage.

The best way to understand and manage the pros and cons of food trucks in individual communities is to solicit public input and dialog about the needs and wants of the community. For example, Longmont, Colorado, went through an extensive research and public input process, surveying their local chamber of commerce and meeting with prospective mobile food vendors, resident groups, and restaurant owners. Their resulting ordinance language responds to the needs and concerns of the community.

Addressing Areas of Concern Through Zoning

Many communities are updating their codes to accommodate or regulate mobile vending. While specific approaches vary from place to place, communities interested in adding or updating regulations for mobile food vending should start by defining the uses and then consider each of the following questions:

  • Where in the community should such uses be permitted?
  • How long should a food truck be permitted in one location?
  • Are these mobile units just for food, or can other goods be sold as well?
  • Does the community want to increase activity?
  • How can the zoning ordinance address upkeep and maintenance?
  • When can food trucks operate?
  • How are customer parking and circulation accommodated?
  • How are these uses reviewed and permitted?
  • What do vendors and their customers want or need?
  • How is signage for the mobile unit regulated?
  • How is the site lit to ensure safety?

If food trucks and similar mobile vending activities are a desirable use in a community and regulations are adopted to permit mobile vending, it is important that restrictions and regulations be narrowly tailored so that they do not have the unintended consequence of excluding the use.  For example, if a food truck is required to be no closer than 300 feet from a bricks and mortar restaurant, it may effectively exclude the use in most of the downtown core.

For more information, Rod Arroyo and Jill Bahm authored a Zoning Practice issue on this topic for the American Planning Association (September 2013 – Vol. 30, No.9).  Rod Arroyo will also be speaking on this topic on April 27, 2014 at the National Planning Conference in Atlanta, Georgia.

Royal Oak Farmers Market Food Truck Rally - Zoning

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