Planning Commission will hold another public hearing next week on a proposed new county ordinance
The latest version of the revised Sarasota County food truck ordinance still eliminates the distance requirements between the vendors and brick-and-mortar restaurants; maintains the previous list of zoning districts where the trucks may operate; and allows larger vehicles than those originally proposed, the county’s zoning administrator has informed the Planning Commission.
An earlier draft called for a food truck or pushcart to be outside an 800-foot radius of any established restaurant, unless the operator had written notarized consent of the restaurant management. It also prevented vendors from being located within a 750-foot radius of another food truck or pushcart.
And while an earlier version of the ordinance limited the size of a vehicle to 10 by 20 feet, the latest draft keeps the size to 10 by 27 feet, “with each separate mobile component containing no more than … two axles.”
Staff continues to have concerns about even more flexibility sought by the food truck industry, Zoning Administrator Donna Thompson points out in a memo to the advisory board that was released this week.
The Planning Commission will address the new draft of the law when it meets at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 18, in the Commission Chambers of the County Administration Center in downtown Sarasota. It is the second public hearing on the agenda that night.
In her memo, Thompson explains that since 2011, the county’s Planning and Development Services Department staff “has been in continuous communication with the SRQ Food Truck Alliance, represented by the Institute for Justice … relating to possible modifications to the Temporary Use Permit (TUP) process and standards for Street Vendors, including pushcarts and food trucks.”
During the review of an application for a TUP, she continues, staff can ensure that any incompatible feature “is suitably separated from adjacent uses”; excessive vehicular traffic is not generated on residential streets; adequate parking is available for both the vendor and existing uses, so staff has no expectation parking circulation problems will be created; and that the vendor’s operation is compatible with surrounding land uses. The two means of conducting a review of those facets of an application, Thompson points out, are a public hearing before the County commission for all applications regarding public property or the barrier islands; and a review by the zoning administrator for requests involving private property, with those referred afterward to the board. The commission has to decide whether to hold a public hearing on the latter, she wrote, or allow the zoning administrator to make a decision on the application.
The Planning Commission last addressed a draft ordinance on May 5. Because of public testimony provided then, Thompson explains in her memo, the board members decided to continue the hearing to allow staff to undertake further consultation with the Institute for Justice and representatives of the food truck industry. The goal was to consider more revisions of the law to allow greater flexibility for the vendors, Thompson adds.
Among the revisions included in the previous version and kept in the latest draft, she noted, is expanding the zoning districts where food trucks may operate. Those added are Commercial Neighborhood, Planned Commerce Development, Commercial Highway Interchange, Commercial Intensive and Commercial Marine.
The Institute for Justice also asked for the following, Thompson notes:
- Approval of TUPs that would not limit a vendor to a specific site.
- Allowing vendors to operate on publicly owned property and/or public rights of way and sidewalks without the need for County Commission approval.
- Eliminating distance requirements, as well as the necessity of a site plan for a specific location.
- Allowing the vendor to operate throughout the county as long as proof of appropriate licensing and general liability insurance has been provided to the county.
- Issuing a decal upon approval of an application, indicating that all conditions have been met.
Thompson says staff recommends the ordinance retain the provision for a public hearing on applications regarding vendors on public property, including rights of way, “to ensure they do not interfere with any public use or create public safety concerns.
She also points out that the Institute’s proposal does not include any control over locations other than specifying the appropriate zoning districts, and it does not suggest a restriction on the number of vehicles at a single location. “Limitations on the number of vehicles should be considered in relation to the size of a parcel, adequate parking and circulation, and their effect on adjacent uses,” Thompson adds. “Staff supports eliminating the public hearing requirements for private properties on or off the barrier islands, but recommends retaining the requirements for site-specific approvals by the Zoning Administrator in order to ensure compatibility and compliance with the TUP criteria,” she writes.
Restaurant operator concerns
During their Aug. 2 regular meeting, members of the Siesta Key Village Association (SKVA) again aired concerns about the proposed changes to the law. Mark Smith, vice president of the SKVA and chair of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, pointed out that the May version of the ordinance still called for the County Commission to approve any food truck applications regarding the barrier islands. “I feel confident that there won’t be any food trucks operating on Siesta Key.”
(The most recent draft was not available prior to the SKVA meeting.)
However, he said, “the larger issue is how it affects restaurants on the mainland.” That is the primary reason the Siesta Chamber has continued to offer comments on the process, he added. A significant number of its members are not on the island.
“I don’t want to get into restricting trade,” he continued. Nonetheless, Smith maintained that county staff needs to regulate the operation of the vendors more closely instead of just allowing them to obtain a decal that would entitle them to “show up anywhere.”
Referring to the operators, he noted that they “don’t want to submit a site plan,” but, instead, to have the ability to move around as they choose. That type of flexibility could prove troublesome for residents, Smith said.
His view is that restaurant and lodging industry members need to become more involved in the issue, he pointed out, and he was told “they are going to do that.”