Commission still paving way for trucks to operate on daily basis, but some last-minute concerns need to be ironed out first

LARGO — Food truck vendors may soon park just about wherever they please without a special event permit in the city of Largo. Their ability to do so will hinge on the property owner legally providing the parking spot, however.

Plus, food truck vendors should provide a trash can for that tinfoil taco wrapper, Mayor Woody Brown said.

In an effort to streamline the process of regularly operating a food truck in Largo, economic development coordinator Karisa Rojas-Norton proposed the ordinance at the Feb. 5 commission meeting. The ordinance amends Largo’s development code to establish provisions governing food truck operations.

The proposal was unveiled Dec. 17, when the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency advisory board convened to discuss its finer points — per the mayor’s request during a commission work session back in April. The board unanimously voted in favor of forwarding an amendment draft to the Planning Board, which voted 7-0 on Jan. 3, sending it to City Commission.

Brown and the commission approved the ordinance 6-1 on first reading, with Michael Smith casting the dissenting vote. The second and final reading will be Feb. 19.

The regulations around mobile food businesses, as is, requires that vendors purchase special events permits ($75) to operate and can only do so for 15-day intervals. Still — as Commissioner Jamie Robinson and other city officials acknowledged — many vendors are already operating on a permanent or semi-permanent basis in some locations anyway.

Also, officials noted that few, if any, complaints have been reported about food trucks in Largo.

Questions did arise regarding insurance responsibilities and liability. The city typically cites the business owner or tenant, responded City Attorney Alan Zimmet. Some language still needs to be refined as to how city-sponsored events would be handled legally.

What won’t change if the amendment passes at the Feb. 19 meeting is that food truck operators must still obtain a business tax receipt if they’re based in Largo or register as a vendor if not. They would also have to provide proof of a fire inspection, either by Largo Fire Rescue or another department — a state requirement.

What’s different is that property owners will be able to apply for a $125 site-plan review to host a food truck on their property.

“We really looked hard at the process and making it as simple as possible,” Rojas-Norton assured.

Special event permits will still be required for larger events, such as food truck rallies. Permits are not required for private events or for construction teams hired by private employers.

Some of the requirements in the legislation came across as prohibitive. No amplified music, signage, stand-alone accessories and furniture would be permitted (with the exception of events on lots with no nearby seating area). The no-seating caveats were intended to encourage diners to sit inside existing brick-and-mortar establishments, such as a brew pub.

Property owners, however, can request an additional site-plan review if they’d like to set up tables or a covered area, explained Planning Manager Rick Perez.

Largo resident Geoff Moakley addressed the commission with a concern for the potential of litter, plastic and straws strewn about. He said that he found a Styrofoam container in a Largo sewer drain near a food truck site. Brown agreed and that vendors should provide a waste receptacle.

Expressing hopes for bringing more foot traffic to the city’s downtown corridor, Robinson urged that Rojas-Norton and her team continue to provide outreach after the amendment passes so food truck operators understand the new legislation.

Rojas-Norton nodded in agreement, reporting that she interviewed vendors and community stakeholders, and had a “good conversation” with Shawna Campbell, booking agent for the Gulf-to-Bay Food Truck Association.

“We went over the items in the ordinance,” Rojas-Norton said of the meeting, adding that the association was “pleased with the proposed regulations and she and her team “will be providing information to their 50-plus members.”

SOURCE: tbnweekly.com