SRQ Food Truck Alliance wants the county to table restrictions on where and how they operate.
Proposed changes are on the menu for food trucks at the Oct. 27 Sarasota County Commission meeting, and vendors hope that, if approved, they’ll make it easier to do business in unincorporated parts of the county.
SRQ Food Truck Alliance, a group of approximately 20 local vendors, has been working with the county to refine restrictions the commission passed in 2011, when it authorized food trucks to operate in unincorporated areas under temporary use permits.
Currently, vendors in Sarasota County must get notarized consent from owners of restaurants within 800 feet of a proposed site and can’t operate with 750 feet of one another. Those proximity restrictions spurred conversations between vendors and the county after similar regulations were challenged as unconstitutional in other parts of the United States.
Phil Applebaum, an activism coordinator at Institute for Justice, a national advocacy group representing the Alliance, said proximity restrictions conflict with the 14th Amendment, which prohibits laws that protect some businesses from others.
Institute for Justice has worked with food trucks to make similar changes in New Orleans, Washington D.C. and El Paso, Texas.
Proposed changes include the removal of proximity restrictions.
However, some vendors say those regulations are just part of the problem.
Vendors face long waits for temporary use permits and must obtain individual permits for each property on which they hope to operate.
In that case, the county may have taken a step backward. A draft of the new temporary use permit obtained by the Sarasota Observer would require county commissioners to review new permits at a public hearing, potentially lengthening the process.
Lori Cortellini, who owns Da Vinci’s Coffee and Gelato, said she waited three-and-a-half months to obtain a temporary use permit from the county and had to submit an eight-page application, photos of her truck and aerial photos of the site.
She won’t attempt further business in the county until things change, she said.
Vendors must also pay fees of $140 for each permit.
Applebaum said vendors should be able to operate under a single permit, but the county hasn’t indicated yet whether it will propose changes to streamline permitting.
Applebaum also proposes opening new zones to vendors, who would like to operate in office and industrial parks but are restricted to places like warehouse districts and work sites.
Jimmey Shelton, who owns Traveling Kitchen, a food truck, and TK’s Java Sweets, a brick and mortar establishment on Cortez Road in Bradenton, said he understands that food trucks don’t belong everywhere. Some places, such as Siesta Key, have unique rules, and Shelton doesn’t mind that there are no proposed changes to policies that prohibit food trucks outright on the Key.
But he said vendors have a mutually beneficial relationship with nearby businesses.
“Allowing us in more commercial zones and simplifying permits benefits the employer and employees,” Shelton said. “They ask us to come. If a business wants us there to provide a service for them, then we should have that option.”
Cortellini said there isn’t much overlap in customers between restaurants and food trucks.
“It’s a healthy competition, just like any other business,” she said. “Where you eat just depends on what you want.”
Sarasota County Commissioner Paul Caragiulo said he supports changes that prevent government from protecting certain businesses over others.
“I think competition is healthy,” Caragiulo said. “We can figure out a way for everybody to coexist nicely.”
Join the Neighborhood! Our 100% local content helps strengthen our communities by delivering news and information that is relevant to our readers. Support independent local journalism by joining the Observer's new membership program — The Newsies — a group of like-minded community citizens, like you. Be a Newsie.