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More unreported tidbits about Orlando’s food truck pilot program

June 19, 2013
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We reported in a bit more detail about the city’s new temporary use permit pilot program for food trucks in this week’s issue. You can read that story here. But we did get a lot of additional information that, for one reason or another, didn’t make it into the story. Below you’ll find a handful of emails with interviews and details that didn’t make it into the “Food Truck Wars” story.

A reader forwarded us this email he received from the city of Orlando regarding his questions and concerns about the city’s new temporary use permit for food trucks. At his request, we have redacted his email address and name from the message. The rest of it remains intact and unedited.

From: Jason Burton <jason.burton@cityoforlando.net>
Cc: Kathleen Devault <Kathleen.Devault@cityoforlando.net>; Cassandra Lafser <cassandra.lafser@cityoforlando.net>
Sent: Wed, Jun 19, 2013 3:17 pm
Subject: Food Trucks

Thank you for emailing Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer about the Mother Falcon’s food trucks being the first casualty of Orlando’s food truck program.  First, I would like to clarify that this was not due to the City’s regulation of food trucks.
It is the responsibility of the food truck owner to check with the property owner to gain permission from them to conduct business on their property.  This is always the case, and when we assign additional property rights or write a letter authorizing activities on a property, the City always asks for permission of the property owner, regardless of the issue.
In the case of the Falcon’s property, we as City staff spoke directly to the property owner, clarifying that this was a location that the City fully supported food trucks being upon (even going so far as to say that this is an encouraged location).  Unfortunately, since the Falcon did not previously have the permission of the property owner in this case, the property owner was concerned about the use of her property without her knowledge and liability concerns (from the advise of her own attorney and insurance agents – despite the Falcon’s willingness to indemnify the property owner).  This was not due to the City’s regulation of food trucks.
Food trucks as mentioned in your e-mail, is one type of mobile food vending that people have become passionate about.  Orlando’s mobile food industry has the potential to create jobs, provide for opportunities for residents to get restaurant quality food, and socialize with others.
The City Council recently provided exemptions for once-a-week food truck operations on any private property which allows restaurants by zoning within the City’s seven Main Street Districts, and additional locations such as the Milk District, Washington Shores and regional malls.   Mobile food vendors also have additional opportunities to operate during special events in our Main Street Districts or through the 18A special event process.  We also provided a path for vendors to locate permanently on property within the City, where appropriate (this may require improvements to a property, and sometimes requires further land use permits according to our existing codes).  Additionally, we provided a basis for vendors to operate reasonably in the Downtown on private property plazas, which can better manage them – rather than utilizing the City’s resources.
Unfortunately, the City code prohibits anyone from conducting business in the rights-of-way of the City (streets, sidewalks and easements).  Each vendor acknowledges this when they receive a business tax receipt for peddling at “various locations”.  Even places like Portland, OR, which has the most robust food truck culture in the United States, food trucks do not conduct their business upon that city’s rights-of-way.  Portland also has the disadvantage of very few restaurants in their downtown area, where there are food truck pods every few blocks.  The restriction on conducting business on the right-of-way (absent a concession agreement or other competitive process) needs to be evenly enforced throughout the City, otherwise the City is unfairly “gifting” its resources to a particular vendor.
Some vendors in the City have neglected to take care of the streets, sidewalks and drains near where they have been operating, forcing the City (at great expense) to clean or repair damage caused by vendors.  Due to the mobile nature of the industry, it is difficult to determine who caused the damage and recover the costs.
We also want to ensure vendors conform to the City’s zoning laws (also acknowledged at time of Business Tax Receipt).  This helps to protect residential areas and keep vending on sites where it is appropriate.  This includes consideration of the use on the property: notably, what is allowable by a particular zoning district, and where is the parking provided for all the operating uses on the site (which we have exempted Mobile Food Vendors from providing – a competitive advantage over conventional businesses).
For parking, the uses on the property at time of the vending operation is considered to see if there is excess parking that may accommodate the vendor.  That way, parking demands are not forced deeper into adjacent residential neighborhoods.  Vendors also need to be cognizant of whether they are potentially becoming an “attractive nuisance” near sensitive residential areas; we believe our existing zoning and land development laws are the best way to accommodate vendors while creating a level playing field for all business to operate within our City.
Based on the experience in the current pilot program, we anticipate the City may provide for additional avenues for mobile food vending in the future.  We are also supportive of perhaps having more City sanctioned locations for permanent mobile food vending in the future, some of which are mentioned in the pilot program.
We believe that these existing regulations and recently implemented exemptions are a reasonable starting point to evaluate what is currently occurring throughout our City, level the playing field, and address ongoing nuisances.  We will closely monitor this program and evaluate approximately every six months with all stakeholders – including vendors, residents, property owners and restaurateurs.
Thanks for your comments again.  Regards,

Jason Burton AICP, CNU-A, LEED-AP
Chief Planner, City of Orlando
Also, the city of Orlando sent us a list of people it consulted with in April to get input on working with food trucks in the city. Per city spokeswoman Cassandra Lafser:
In the development of the pilot program, the City involved several food vendors (some carts, some trucks), Main Street Managers, other business owners, Downtown Orlando staff and other City staff. I can provide a complete list if necessary.
We continue to hold meetings often with mobile food vendors. We are reaching out to them and offering meetings if they’d like to understand the current pilot program and get information on how to apply for the new temporary use permit. Sometimes these meetings are one-on-one, sometimes they are in larger groups.

She wrote in a followup email:

Erin,

 
There was a food truck round table on April 2nd with the following:
Mark Baratelli, theDailyCity.com
Joey with Yum Yum Cupcake Truck
Chris and Steward, Brisket Bus
Lisa, the Crepe Company
Kelly Trace, Orlando Metro EDC
Scottie Campbell, Ivanhoe Village Main Street
Mike O’Quinn, Plant Pizza/Bullitt Bar
Jennifer Marvel, Audubon Park Main Street
Michael Hennessey, White Wolf Cafe

After we went to press we also got a couple of responses to requests for comment that didn’t make it in time for the print edition. What we got is below.

Gabrielle Arnold, who owns La Empanada Food Truck with partner Janelle Luce, says:

This is going to impact the entire food truck community on many levels…
Of course the first thing that comes to mind is how we’ll be impacted from a financial standpoint. Less access to locations and complete severing of some of our longest standing venues is a pretty big deal. Will that put some food trucks out of business? Let’s hope not, but it will certainly force some of us to shift our business models on the fly – which, when you’re running a business, is extremely stressful. We’ve all built trusted relationships within the community with both customers and our venues so my hope is that we can come to some kind of compromise with local government.

Another fear we all probably share is that these new rules will end up stifling the growth and progress of the food truck scene in Orlando. There will be a lot less opportunity around town and a lot more hoops to jump through from now on. I’m staying positive (or perhaps being naive) and hoping that this is a good opportunity for us trucks to come together and state our needs from this city, which we all support as business owners.

For one, we’d like to come to a more reasonable solution regarding the “one night per week” policy for bars, which impacts many of the trucks in town. Many of us met with and have spoken with the city planner who seems receptive enough so we shall see what can be done. It’s a damn shame we couldn’t have worked with him on this, or at least provided some input from the beginning.  I know he heard plenty of complaints and met with other business owners in town who oppose food trucks, as well as did research on food truck rules in other cities, BUT I have yet to talk to a food truck owner who had any idea this piece of city legislations was coming together. It’s been a shock and feels like we’re working backwards now to come to compromises.

Melissa Schumann, owner of the Falcon Bar and Gallery, says:

OW: What’s your take on the food truck rules/regs thing?

I am not sure what brought about the sudden changes with the food truck laws.  I have heard mixed opinions about it being started from complaints by brick and mortars locations, etc.  My initial reaction is if it “ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  One could argue that if regulations aren’t put into place then every public parking space in Thornton Park for example could be lined with Food Trucks, but prior to the recent enforcement, that has not happened.  Capitalism and consumer power would/does regulate. …

Outside of the shortsighted debate about the benefits and draw backs of food trucks bringing people to areas or taking away business from existing restaurants, I think local government can’t forget that one of the overarching big picture goals of the city is to bring cutting edge companies to Orlando and make places like Creative Village their corporate headquarters.  Food Trucks are part of our “cultural economy” just as much as the arts.  Food is art.  Creativity can improve a community’s competitive edge, create a foundation for defining a sense of place, attract new and visiting populations, and contribute to the development of a loyal skilled workforce.  People don’t want everything to be cookie cutter and cutting edge companies aren’t going to attract top level talent to a city that does not have a little more of a bohemian vibe.  Austin for example is booming and it’s in TEXAS!!

OW: Do you think the rules & regs make sense?

I think they were put together with little input of interested parties.  I do think this is a wake up call for Food Truck owners that they need to pay attention to local government and attend meetings that could affect their business.  I.e. the Food Truck Round Table Meeting.

OW: Were you part of the working group that helped put them together?

No, but I did send an email to the city planner sharing my thoughts prior to the council vote.  I explained that I think Food Trucks bring their own clientele.  This clientele then check out the area and come back to frequent the businesses.  Also I shared that recently there was USA Today article about the “10 best neighborhoods…” almost all listed Food Trucks as a component.

Currently I am a fan of “Food Trucks For Fairness” on Facebook.

And for now … that’s all we’ve got. We’ll keep reporting more on the subject as we get more information.

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