Food fight in Hemming Plaza looms

Proposed new code will restrict food truck owners adversely

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

Food truck owners in Jacksonville swarmed City Council Chambers last month, fighting what appears to be ill-conceived legislation that would put more restrictions on the popular mobile eateries.

Approximately 200 people – mostly opposed to the pending, far-from-final bill – filled the Chamber on Feb. 26 to give District 10 Councilman Reginald Brown a piece of their mind.
Brown is sponsoring the bill in an apparent attempt to fix a problem that many of the food truck supporters feel can be handled through enforcement of current code.

Bill Adams, managing partner with Gunster, Yoakley and Stewart, with about 50 employees, questioned the agenda behind the proposed regulation. “Why is this legislation needed at all? Health code regulations, parking regulations and licensing regulations already exist…the real issue is the brick and mortar restaurants,” he said, to much applause. “Are we really talking about anti-competitive regulations? It is not the City’s business to be in the area of leveling the playing field for people.”

Along with District 2 Councilman Don Redman, Brown is not alone in his desire for more regulation of food trucks, though. The Downtown business owners of Chamblin’s Uptown – which has a small café – as well as Quiznos Sandwiches and Subway Sandwiches all feel that they are losing business to the food trucks, while unwillingly providing restroom service to the trucks’ customers.

Chamblin’s manger Jennifer O’Donnell questioned the intention of Parks & Recreation by bringing food trucks into the Hemming Plaza area. Although only three trucks (chosen on a rotating basis) are allowed to operate in that area from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays, the two fast-food restaurant owners contend that their businesses are being hindered by food trucks and “there are not enough people Downtown to support all the businesses,” according to O’Donnell.

Since it would be a city-county ordinance, and food trucks don’t limit their venues to the downtown area, other parts of Duval County – such as the Southbank, the historic districts and the Beaches – will also be affected.

San Marco-based Aardwolf Brewery, which does not prepare or sell food inside the building, based part of its business plan on food trucks; its PUD was developed to encompass food trucks on the property. The 500-foot distance restriction in proximity to parks and residential housing would affect the microbrewery at 1461 Hendricks Ave. “We’re attached to a park [Southside] and there’s housing across the street,” said Preben Olsen, co-owner. “This would obviously really put a damper on our business.”

• Livelihoods going up in smoke?
Food truck owners, customers and supporters fought back. Some, like Andrew Ferenc of On The Fly Sandwiches and Stuff, said additional regulations such as being proposed would put him out of business. Ironically, the parking lot owner that leases space to Ferenc a block from the new Duval County Courthouse said that he also would fear going under if Ferenc would have to move.

Ortega resident Jennifer Kline Wilbers, co-owner of Up in Smoke BBQ, and one of the organizers of Jacksonville Food Truck Organization, said about the ordinance “My major concern is that it’s going to shut me down as a business; I’m not going to be able to operate at lunch anymore. Some of the things that are going to be implemented are so outrageous that it’s not possible. I’m fine with regulations as long as it’s reasonable. We have a lot of regulations now that nobody realizes.”

• Health, parking and  licensing regs prevail
Those regulations under which food trucks currently operate seem more than adequate to the mobile eatery owners, and even some of the members on the panel thought the same.
Aundra Wallace, CEO of the Downtown Investment Authority said that its Board supports food trucks in Downtown. “The Board has been very clear about it in terms of when and where [food trucks are] appropriate. They also have some concerns about the current pending legislation with regards to the vibrancy of Downtown,” Wallace said. “We want to be equally competitive with other cities…in terms of bringing people in to our Downtown and have all viable options available to us. We definitely support the concept of the current legislation; we would like to discuss as a Board the actual legislation and give more complete and thorough input.”

According to Cherry Shaw, Office of General Counsel, food trucks are regulated by the state through the Department of Business and Professional Regulation and the Department of Health.

“The City may regulate the food trucks for the distance requirement on City right-of-ways, the trash requirements, and overall for public health and safety,” she stated.
Jack Shad, Office of Economic Development confirmed that the Florida Department of Health conducted annual and random inspections on the food trucks. “We rely on the state inspections of the trucks. If you want to do any business with the City, you have to produce those permits issued that are evidence of meeting state standards,” said Shad.
In fact, according to Dale Stoudt, co-owner/operator of Jacksonville Super Food Truck, he has had semi-annual health inspections plus an inspection every time he contracts for an event. “Last year I had 37 health inspections because the City of Jacksonville does one at every single event we go to.”

• Food trucks corralled
One of the proposed regulations would bring all the Downtown food trucks together in one location, rather than allowing them to park at various spots around the City. That’s okay with Wilbers, though.

“I feel that we do better the more we are together. If one truck is sitting there it’s like ‘oh, there’s another food truck’ but if there’s a bunch together it’s like ‘what’s going on down there?’” she said. “I think it’s actually bringing more business to us and to brick-and-mortars. Half the people in my line at Hemming Plaza have somebody with them with a Subway bag or a Quizno bag; it’s bringing everybody out of their offices.”

By the end of the two-hour-plus session, Brown promised to create a committee of food truck owners, City employees, small business owners and residents to review and revise the proposed legislation within a 90-day period.

“I’m hoping that we’re able to get something that lets us all can co-exist. I want to make sure that we create good legislation that everyone can live with,” Brown said.

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