Food Trucks To Be Legislated Out of Existence?

February 25, 2014 324 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Food trucks have become one of the most popular scenes to hit Jacksonville in recent years. Despite the economic stimulation and cultural excitement, City Councilman Reggie Brown is moving forward on an attempt to legislate food trucks out of existence in Jacksonville.

This Wednesday at 3pm, Councilman Reggie Brown will hold a public meeting regarding a draft ordinance that will severely limit the ability of food truck operators to conduct business in Jacksonville.

Food trucks do not have a defined use in the City's current municipal code. This is not surprising given how poorly COJ's zoning and land use laws reflect the reality of today's marketplace. Councilman Brown's bill would finally codify food trucks into the land use and zoning rules, which on the surface has the potential to add clarity and consistency within the market.  However, as drafted this ordinance will have devastating consequences on honest and hard working small business owners.

Interior of The Blind Fig restaurant on King Street. The Blind Fig grew out of the Salty Fig food truck.

Among the lowlights of this ordinance: food trucks must have access to restroom facilities within 100 feet of operation (something which is impossible to provide given that a food truck could not provide an ADA-approved restroom on board), ban food trucks within 500 feet of a public park (employees of Everbank and Fidelity would no longer be able to have food trucks on their own property), ban food trucks from entire areas of town outright (even on private property whose underlying zoning allows for the outside sale and service of food by right), require food trucks to close by midnight (however no similar restriction would be placed on any other restaurant in the entire city), would limit on board refrigeration units to a maximum of two storage devices (which effectively limits the amount of sales a food truck could realize by artificially restricting supply) and would severely limit the ability for food trucks to offer catering services in residential or commercially zoned neighborhoods.

A week after a CNN Money article highlighted Jacksonville's burgeoning startup scene, an industry that has experienced rapid, organic growth locally could now be regulated out of existence by the strong hand of government intervention. Fear of competition has fueled this bizarre move to stifle small business growth. Instead of choosing to reinvest in their own product offerings, competing businesses have instead chosen to lobby Council representatives to protect them from adapting to the marketplace.

Interior of the Corner Taco on Post Street in Five Points. Corner Taco began as a food truck.

In just two short years, food trucks have brought much needed foot traffic downtown. Food truck owners in Jacksonville have gone on to open burgeoning brick and mortar locations which have added to the vibrancy of our neighborhoods. (picture of Pele's, Corner Taco, Salty Fig). Food truck events have raised tens of thousands of dollars for local non-profits. Recently, food truck owners teamed up with Duval County Public Schools and the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce to form a unique job training program where career academy students in local high schools learn valuable career skills by opening and operating their own food truck. In short, food trucks have added to our community's quality of life.

We must ask ourselves, is this the kind of community I want to live in where consumer choice takes a back seat to fear? Is this the environment where I want to start a business while the omnipresent fear of being shut down by government regulations looms large? Is this the kind of place where I want to raise a family when the promise of realizing my own financial self-sufficiency can be taken away at a moment's notice by a well connected group of NIMBY's?

Pele's Wood Fire, located at Park & King Streets. Pele's started off as a mobile vendor.

That choice begins Wednesday in City Council Chambers beginning at 3pm.

Article by Mike Field

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