The new county law still would require any petition for such a business on one of the barrier islands to be heard by the County Commission
Siesta Key Village Association (SKVA) Vice President Mark Smith — who also serves as chair of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce — has voiced concerns about the new food truck ordinance on which county staff has been working for years, even though any petitions regarding such an operation on Siesta Key would still have to be reviewed by the County Commission during a public hearing.
The latest version of the revised regulations is scheduled to be considered by the Sarasota Planning Commission during a May 5 public hearing, county Zoning Administrator Donna Thompson told The Sarasota News Leader in an April 15 telephone interview.
Although the document was pulled from that advisory board’s Feb. 18 agenda for potential revisions, Thompson said no changes ended up being made.
During the April 5 SKVA meeting, Smith said he would send copies of the ordinance to SKVA board member Russell Matthes — co-owner of the Daiquiri Deck restaurants — and Brad Stewart — co-owner of Captain Curt’s Crab & Oyster Bar — and other restaurateurs who are members of the Siesta Chamber.
He added that it appeared to him that the drafting of the new ordinance had been “heavily influenced” by the SRQ Food Truck Alliance. That organization first requested revisions to the county’s laws in 2011 to give its members more flexibility in regard to where and how they can operate, Thompson pointed out in a Feb. 18 memo to the Planning Commission. The Alliance was represented by the Institute for Justice in discussions with county staff, she added in that memo.
Among his concerns, Smith continued, are the facts that the proposed ordinance eliminates the requirement that a food truck cannot operate within 800 feet of a restaurant and that it would allow a pushcart or vehicle to be as close as 50 feet to a residential district. The latter measurement, he pointed out, “is about as wide as this lot here,” referring to the site of the Daiquiri Deck Raw Bar, where the SKVA holds its monthly meetings.
Smith pointed out that Chamber members who own restaurants “will not be thrilled about food trucks parked right across the street.”
In response to a question from Matthes, Smith said the county has “nothing on the books” that would prevent a food truck from operating on the Key.
Matthes recalled appearing before the County Commission in October 2012 to oppose the petition of a couple who wanted to open such a business on public right of way next to Canal Road, he added.
The commission voted unanimously to deny that request. Then-County Commissioner Jon Thaxton told his colleagues that although he is a “big fan of food trucks … this board has struggled [for years] … to maintain a balance in Siesta Key Village that keeps the harmony … between residents and commercial [operations].”
Commissioner Carolyn Mason concurred with Thaxton during that Oct. 23, 2012 meeting: “I don’t think the Village is the right location for this ….”
Smith said he plans to let the Planning Commission and the County Commission know about the Chamber’s concerns.
“Any [Village] plaza basically has at least one restaurant in it,” SKVA Treasurer Roz Hyman pointed out. “So I can’t conceive of any owner saying, ‘Let’s let a food truck into the plaza.’”
“Well, that’s true,” Smith replied.
The ordinance does prevent a business from reducing its required parking spaces to allow a food truck to operate on its property, Smith added. Therefore, it would appear that it would be very difficult for a food truck to set up on Siesta Key commercial property, he said. However, such businesses may be able to operate on residential multi-family locations, he noted, referring to the condominium complexes on the island.
County Commission Chair Al Maio, who was a guest at the SKVA meeting, told the members, “I have said every time in public, and in private — to staff — that wherever these trucks go, they’re not parking over septic fields,” for example. They also will be allowed to operate only in certain zoning districts, he added, and — as Smith had pointed out — they will not be able to take up parking spaces a business needs to remain Zoning Code-compliant.
Maio told Smith, “I think you’re right. You need to go before the Planning Commission and the County Commission.” He suggested the SKVA and Chamber members look closely at the language in the proposed ordinance. For example, Maio continued, they should make certain that it even would be possible for a condominium association to allow a food truck to operate in its front parking lot.
Siesta Key Association President (SKA) Michael Shay pointed out that most condominium associations do not allow any types of trucks on their property except those involved with deliveries or construction, though each organization has its own rules.
Maio said he could not imagine food trucks operating at condo complexes on the Key.
He also reminded the SKVA members, “You all have as much right as anybody to request a meeting” involving county staff, to discuss concerns about facets of the proposed ordinance.
A number of years ago when the food truck issue came up — around 2007, if he remembered correctly — Shay said the SKA joined the SKVA in writing letters to county officials, because “no one was interested in allowing [such businesses on the Key]. However, Shay continued, the suggestion did arise at that time about the need for concessions at Turtle Beach, where no food or beverages are available. That location still might be a possibility for a food truck operation, he added.
Matthes agreed that Turtle Beach might need a food truck. On the other hand, he said he felt it would not be fair to allow such businesses to compete with restaurants in high-rent areas.
One area where food truck operations do make sense, Maio explained, is the type of situation in which he formerly worked — in a five-story office building on Cattlemen Road that had abundant parking. The average employee there had limited time for lunch, he said, so the landlord brought in food trucks as a convenience for the workers. “I think it’s perfectly appropriate” in that type of setting, he added. The food trucks had no impact on restaurants, which were well down the road from the offices.
Shay added that he believes that type of situation was the genesis for the food truck industry.
Matthes pointed out that he had seen food trucks as an appropriate option to help serve customers of bars with undersize kitchens or no kitchens on special occasions — such as a week when major sporting events would draw heavy crowds to the businesses — and ample parking was available.
“It is necessary that we keep an eye on it,” Shay said of the proposed ordinance.