County Commission approves public hearing on revised food truck ordinance with more flexibility

Zoning administrator says the document remains under review, so no date has been scheduled

Sarasota County Zoning Administrator Donna Thompson. News Leader photo
Sarasota County Zoning Administrator Donna Thompson. News Leader photo

Although the document itself remains a work in progress, as Sarasota County Zoning Administrator Donna Thompson made clear this week, the County Commission has unanimously approved the scheduling of a public hearing on regulations with more flexibility for food truck operations.

As Thompson works to complete the revision, Commissioner Christine Robinson called for caution about whether private property owners in areas zoned OPI (Office, Professional and Institutional) should be allowed to host food trucks. “That’s a transition in intensity,” Robinson noted of the OPI zones. “We might have to be concerned about buffering to residential [areas] a little bit to prevent any … use issue between the two.”

People living in a neighborhood might object to the odor of barbecue wafting their way from an OPI district, for example, Robinson pointed out.

Perhaps the CN (Commercial Neighborhood) zoning districts should be a focus of special concern, too, she added, telling Thompson, “I just ask you to look at [preparing the amended ordinance] from that perspective.”

While the proposal already recommends food trucks be allowed in CN zones, the amended ordinance does not call for the inclusion of OPI districts.

Thompson told the board she is not certain how long it will take to complete the revision, as she plans to continue working with interested parties to finalize the language. Among those parties are the SRQ Food Truck Alliance, restaurant owners, and representatives of the hospitality industry and chambers of commerce, Thompson said. She has shared the draft with the latter three groups, she added.

The background

During her Oct. 27 presentation to the County Commission during its regular meeting in Sarasota, Thompson explained that in May 2011, the board adopted an ordinance that allowed the issuance of Temporary Use Permits (TUPs) for street vendors on private property. Since then, she said, she and other members of the Zoning Department staff have been in contact with the SRQ Food Truck Alliance regarding modifications to the ordinance. The Alliance had requested greater flexibility in the standards, she added.

The current county regulations require a street vendor selling prepared food items to obtain written, notarized consent from operators of established restaurants within 800 feet of a proposed vendor location, Thompson wrote in an Oct. 27 memo to the board. “Proximity restrictions have been challenged in courts in other states as being intended only to protect other businesses from competition,” the memo pointed out.

Further, the current county regulations require a minimum distance of 750 feet between individual street vendors, the memo noted. Staff recommends eliminating the separation stipulations, the memo added.

Additionally, the revised ordinance will include language allowing the approval of TUPs for street vendors to be handled by the zoning administrator or her designee. Under the existing regulations, Thompson pointed out, the granting of such a TUP first necessitates a County Commission decision regarding whether a public hearing on a particular application will be necessary. “That has proven to be quite a lengthy process,” she told the board.

County Commissioner Paul Caragiulo. Rachel Hackney photo
County Commissioner Paul Caragiulo. Rachel Hackney photo

In response to a question from Commissioner Paul Caragiulo, Thompson affirmed that if a public property owner disagreed with her refusal to grant a TUP for street vendors, that person could appeal the matter to the County Commission.

Thompson also explained that the amended document will allow a private property owner to obtain a TUP after submitting an application to the county outlining the number of vendors that will operate on the owner’s site, the days of the week they would be present and their hours of operation. That will enable property owners to offer more variety in the types of food vendors they host on their sites, Thompson noted.

Street vendors seeking to operate on public property or on the barrier islands would still would have to gain County Commission approval, she told the board.

Yet another change would allow vehicles up to 10 feet by 27 feet in size, with each separate mobile component containing no more than two axles. When the 2011 ordinance was adopted, the memo points out, food trailers commonly were towed by other vehicles. Thus, the current law limits a street vendor’s vehicle to 10 feet by 20 feet, and it can have no more than four wheels. Because of the growing popularity of food trucks, the memo says, “this limitation of four wheels has been challenging for food truck operators.”

Food trucks have become popular in many American cities. Photo by Monika M. Wahi via Wikimedia
Food trucks have become popular in many American cities. Photo by Monika M. Wahi via Wikimedia

Finally, the memo notes that the current law limits street vendors to three zoning districts: Commercial General, Industrial Light Warehousing, and Planned Industrial Development. The proposed changes call for adding five zones, including Commercial Neighborhood.

Caragiulo was the board member who questioned why the OPI district was left out of the expanded list.

“It was our intent to allow all the commercial districts to have the opportunity to provide food trucks if they so desired,” Thompson replied, saying the omission must have been an oversight.

Further board discussion

County Commissioner Christine Robinson. Rachel Hackney photo
County Commissioner Christine Robinson. Rachel Hackney photo

Then, in response to a question from Robinson, Thompson concurred that no restaurants are allowed in OPI zones.

After Robinson raised her points, Thompson said such concerns probably were the reasons Thompson had left the OPI zone out of the revision. She added that she would review the zoning code stipulations for OPI and CN zones and determine whether they are appropriate for food trucks.

However, Caragiulo pointed out that some flexibility might be allowed with OPI zoning, because a parcel in such a district might be as big as 10 acres. “I would just probably work with as many real-life exercises through that as you can,” he told Thompson. “You can’t apply the same standard to everyone.”

He also asked that Thompson make the guidelines for obtaining a TUP as easy to understand as possible.

When Robinson asked about parking requirements, Thompson told her, “We’re not proposing to let the food trucks themselves interfere with required parking on-site.” An applicant for a TUP would have to demonstrate that sufficient parking was available for people who needed regular access to the property, as well as for customers of the food trucks, Thompson added.

Robinson asked Thompson to provide more details about parking requirements in the revised document. “You’re going to find yourself in a real bind on this one unless we establish some parameters on that,” Robinson added.

After the discussion, Thompson told the board members, “We’ll take all that into consideration before we come back and have it appropriately documented.”

Caragiulo made the motion to hold a public hearing on the revised ordinance, and Vice Chair Al Maio seconded it. The motion passed 5-0.