SEBASTIAN — In 2020, the state of Florida preempted the regulation of mobile food trucks, banning local governments from prohibiting mobile food dispensing vehicles from operating.
Now, in an attempt to exercise control over the local food truck industry without running afoul of the state preemption, the city of Sebastian has proposed a set of regulations and requirements for food trucks.
On April 14, the Sebastian City Council held a first public reading of Ordinance No. 0-21-03, which over nine pages spells out a series of definitions and rules for all food trucks, from ice cream and taco trucks to more complex mobile kitchens.
Mayor Ed Dodd and city staff characterized the ordinance as an attempt to make the Sebastian code match the state requirements, rather than a challenge to the state’s authority.
“The state has done some preemptive legislation,” Mayor Dodd said. “They’ve changed what local governments can and cannot control as far as food trucks or mobile food dispensing facilities. (We are) attempting to bring our code to where it matches or follows the state code. This isn’t something being done because anyone has complained about mobile food trucks.”
Similarly, the city staff memo accompanying the proposed ordinance says “The city wishes to comply with the state’s directive by recognizing this specialized market segment, classifying the types of permitted mobile food establishments or dispensing vehicles and establishing appropriate standards that allow for typical food truck activities while mitigating associated undesirable impacts.”
One of the primary goals of the ordinance is to protect brick-and-mortar restaurants from unfair competition from food trucks that don’t have as much overhead or operating expenses. The council members seemed satisfied that the draft ordinance accomplishes that.
“One of the things I like about the way this was written is that it protects the local businesses,” said Vice Mayor Jim Hill. “They’re not allowed to go down to Riverview Park and sell their products out of their mobile truck. They’re not allowed to go on city property and make food and sell it in competition with the local businesses. It has to be on private property, unless it’s a special event which brings them in. So this isn’t something that’s going to allow a taco truck to park at Riverview Park every weekend and sell their tacos, which would be in direct competition with our brick-and-mortar buildings, which I would not be in favor of.”
Council Member Christopher Nunn pointed out that many of the local food trucks are local businesses.
“While I know it’s very important to protect our local businesses, and I agree that this is doing that, many of our local food trucks are also local residents with businesses that are trying to survive using their food truck,” said Council Member Nunn. “What this is doing is giving them the ability, on local property, not special events, whether it be at a brewery or a church, this gives them protections to be able to do it without having to jump through a bunch of hoops with the city, without having to get extra permits and licenses, as long as they’re licensed to sell food and their truck’s legal, they can go do it. I think that’s important because these food trucks are our local businesses as well. I’m glad we’re protecting our restaurants, but we’re also giving the other members of our local community the opportunity to make money in a business that they’ve chosen.”
The ordinance defines “mobile food establishment” as “a public food service establishment involving the use of a mobile food dispensing vehicle that is self-propelled or otherwise movable from place to place, such as a truck, trailer, or similar self-propelled conveyance, and includes self-contained utilities including but not limited to gas, water, electricity, or liquid waste disposal.”
The ordinance sets three classifications of mobile food establishments. Class I is mobile kitchens, which in addition to vending may cook, prepare and assemble food items in the unit and serve a food menu. Class II is for canteen trucks, which vend fruits, vegetables, hot dogs, precooked foods, pre-packaged foods, and pre-packaged drinks, but may not prepare or assemble foods in the vehicle. Heating pre-cooked foods like hot dogs is allowed. Class III is for ice cream trucks, which may vend only pre-packaged frozen products and beverages.
Class I vehicles may operate in commercial, industrial, and public service zoning districts only. Class I vehicles must have the written consent of the owner of the property on which it is located.
Class II and III vehicles may operate in any zoning district provided they are not stationary for more than 60 minutes in any residential zoning district or construction site.
Under the ordinance, none of the mobile food establishments are required to obtain local licenses, registrations, permits, or pay any operating fees.
Mayor Dodd expressed concern about language in the ordinance that seems to allow for no more than two trucks at a location, and he wanted to make sure that special events would be allowed to have lots of trucks.
City Manager Paul Carlisle said that events with special event permits could bring in however many food trucks they think is necessary, though the language would prohibit simply parking 10 food trucks on a piece of private property absent a special event.
No public opposition was raised at the first reading on April 14. The second public hearing was set for May 12, after which the ordinance may become law.