Planning Commission Delays Decision on Food Truck Rules

The board expressed a desire to loosen county regulations, but was split about the best way to proceed.

By Cooper Levey-Baker May 6, 2016

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A Los Angeles food truck 

The Sarasota County Planning Commission voted Thursday to delay a decision on how best to loosen county rules that govern food trucks, asking staff to revisit its recommendations and return on Aug. 18. The decision came after commissioners debated whether it makes more sense to issue food truck permits to truck operators themselves or to the owners of the properties where they set up.

The county's current rules require food trucks to get "written, notarized consent" from any restaurants within 800 feet of where they'd like to operate. They also ban trucks from setting up within 750 feet of other vendors, among other things. Food truck entrepreneurs say the rules have stifled the local industry and need to be thrown out or tweaked.

Sarasota County Zoning Administrator Donna Thompson laid out how staff would like to adjust the regulations at the Planning Commission's Thursday evening meeting. The staff proposal would eliminate the need for food trucks to get permission from brick-and-mortar restaurants and the rule that bars trucks from gathering together. Trucks would still not be allowed on barrier islands, due to the scarcity of parking there.

Truck operators argued that the proposed changes don't go far enough. The county would like to require property owners to obtain a $140 permit to host trucks, a system truck owners say would prove too costly. "Requiring us to obtain a permit on a property by property basis is utterly unworkable and not cost-effective," said Chris Jett, the founder of the SRQ Food Truck Alliance. The property owner would be responsible to pay for the permit, but Jett says that cost will likely simply be passed along to truck operators. A counter-proposal would allow individual trucks to apply for an annual license and a decal that would allow them to set up wherever a property owner invites them.

"The decal process was just discussed on Monday night at our neighborhood workshop," Thompson told the commission. "That is something the vendors have recommended for consideration. We haven't had an opportunity to fully consider it yet."

That prompted Commissioner Robert Morris to suggest a delay before making a decision on staff's current proposal. The commission eventually voted unanimously to push a decision back to August, allowing staff time to review the idea of issuing permits to trucks instead of property owners. The commission was split on which system would be most effective.

Not everyone even agreed that the ban on requiring truck owners to get permission from nearby restaurants should go. Restaurant owners have invested large amounts of money in infrastructure, Commissioner Philip Kellogg argued: "I am concerned about undermining our restauranteurs' desire to move forward and continue to grow."

"It should just be more simple than it is," said Planning Commissioner Kevin Cooper. "I would assume there's an easy way to look at it and make it simple for them and make it simple for the county." Come August, we'll find out. Maybe.

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