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Jax food trucks turning regulation in to opportunity as draft moves forward
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Jax food trucks turning regulation in to opportunity as draft moves forward

Jax food trucks turning regulation in to opportunity as draft moves forward
Photo Credit: Stephanie Brown
Jacksonville food truck operators, associated businesses and concerned citizens met with city departments to discuss pending regulation on food trucks.

Jax food trucks turning regulation in to opportunity as draft moves forward

The intent is not to shut down food trucks, but rather figure out what rules can and can’t exist in order for them to operate in Jacksonville.

The first workshop to draft legislation putting new regulations on food trucks brought a few dozen people to Jacksonville’s City Hall Wednesday- from city reps to vendors to concerned citizens. About two to three weeks ago, Councilman Reggie Brown released a proposal on new restrictions including hours and location of operation. There was immediate backlash from food trucks over the proposal which, as written, they believed would put them out of business.

“Some of the stuff they were throwing out there was pretty ridiculous,” says Jennifer Kline with Up In Smoke BBQ.

Brown’s intent was to use the proposal as a starting point for getting community feedback in order to put forward a bill within three months. He says while most food trucks operate properly in the city, he had a concern that there were some skirting health and safety rules and the city had no specific guidelines for how to regulate them.

That proposal was, in fact, the starting point Wednesday- as a representative with the Office of General Counsel who drafted it read through all the changes and, one-by-one, those present expressed their thoughts.

“We got through a lot of what some of the concerns were,” Brown says.

And that was done much more smoothly than all sides expected.

“They’re going to be a little more open minded than I originally thought, which is amazing,” says The Loving Cup owner Matt Lennon.

The first debate centered on figuring out how exactly to define a food truck, because it is not currently listed in city ordinance anywhere. The term “mobile food dispensing vehicle” was the consensus, largely because it falls in like with how the state defines food trucks on their licenses.

The regulation at the state level has been an ongoing point by food trucks through this debate. The state handles licensing, inspecting, sanitation and the major related areas. The city is instead looking at hours and location of operation as the primary focus. Brown argues that Jacksonville keeps track of its food carts and where they distribute food, so a similar practice should be in place for the food trucks. Several provisions within his bill had to nonetheless be tabled until the next meeting because of concern the city was trying to regulate something that was already handled by the state.

Some major changes were agreed upon in this draft, which is still weeks away from making it to City Council.

LOCATION OF OPERATION

Where the food trucks could operate was discussed in several ways. The first, was in terms of the types of locations- residential, commercial, or industrial- all of which would have been severely restricted under the draft.

Ultimately, all parties agreed to allow operation in a residential area specifically for a catered event to which the truck is invited. There must be written consent provided in some way entitling the truck to operate on the homeowner’s property.

“That’s a big win for us,” Lennon says.

Operating in general in a residential neighborhood, however, as well as the other zones is still under review by the city’s Planning Department.

Toward the end of the meeting, the discussion turned much more specific. On where a truck can park, the draft initially said they could only park along a divided road if there was a curb and sidewalk. That has since been changed to either curb or sidewalk- and could still be removed entirely. The restriction is aimed at making sure traffic and pedestrian safety on busy roads takes the highest priority.

Specific distance provisions are also being reviewed as well.  How close a truck could park to a bus stop, driveway, intersection and more were passed with relative ease.

One portion of the bill, however, says a food truck cannot park “within 300 feet of … any property on  which is located any established permanent business which sells the same types of products or services as requested to be sold by the Food Truck/Trailer Vendor”.  Food trucks argued multiple concerns, mainly focusing on free enterprise competition with “brick and mortar” locations. 

“We’re talking about two levels of taxes,” Brown says.

Brown says that although he supports healthy competition among businesses, it’s one thing for two stores with the same overhead to compete and another for a store with higher overhead to compete against a truck.

Trucks also noted that “same types of products” is vague, questioning whether a BBQ truck couldn’t park close to a Subway if the sub shop sold a pulled pork sandwich.

Any decision on this provision is still pending for a few reasons. Multiple parties on behalf of the city wanted to further research codes and zoning that would surround this provision. Brown also wants to get more input from the brick and mortars, none of whom were represented at today’s meeting.

HOURS OF OPERATION

The bill as initially drafted would have limited trucks to operating between 6 AM and midnight. Those hours have now been extended to 6 AM-3 AM. Because clubs and bars are allowed to be open until 2 AM, food trucks argued they would be able to provide food and non-alcoholic beverages to help people “sober up” before heading home.

PERMITTING

Food truck operators are pushing hard to be allowed to get a “non-specified” permit which would allow them to change locations through a day, instead of a permit that would only let them operate in a specific location. The OGC took the step of deleting some language from the proposal which could have prohibited that, but the parties did not yet come to a complete agreement to allow that kind of permit.

HEALTH AND SAFETY

Initially, all parties agreed to remove a provision which would require food trucks to only sell food ready for immediate consumption- essentially eliminating the use of frozen food. The question was brought back up, however, because both Councilwoman Kimberly Daniels and the OGC are concerned about the health implications of having frozen food in a food truck.

Many trucks also pointed out that they are attached to a commissary where they can store food up to state code.

Questions on insurance came up, because the draft apparently has a requirement that’s too low. The bill would have required $200,000, but many truckies said they need $1 million for the state. That’s also under further review.

ACCESS

Proximity to public bathrooms is written in to the current city law governing food carts or similar vendors, so food trucks had a concern the rule would be applied to them as well- a requirement they believe could be very difficult to meet at most spots open to food trucks. OGC believes, however, that because it is in the current law predating food truck addition that they will not be required to abide by this provision

The city is also reviewing any state regulation that currently dictates whether food trucks can hook up to external power and water. The draft would have prohibited that, but if there are already guidelines at the state level, those will be obeyed.

MOVING FORWARD

Although Brown’s efforts are not met with open arms by all the other council members, he remains determined to introduce a bill within the next 2 ½ months. Today’s meeting included a full review of the draft proposal, and many of the lingering questions will be addressed at the next meeting Monday, March 24 at 4PM.

“There is gunna be regulation on us, but it’s going to be pretty acceptable regulation,” Kline says.

Food trucks are beginning to embrace this as an opportunity to possibly open even more doors. Knowing that Brown is intent on some regulation, they’re also trying to get a comprehensive list together of where they can operate- something most agree is not clear at this point. They are also asking for more opportunities to serve people Downtown or other high traffic areas that currently don’t allow them.

“If some of these things pass that we are looking for and the city is look for, it could open up the city to be super progressive,” Lennon says.

Brown asked truckies to agree on a street they would want access to, and says he’s considering some kind of pilot program which could allow trucks to rent spaces in otherwise restricted areas.

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