After more than two years of debate, the City of Pensacola has finally passed a food truck ordinance, adopting a “compromise ordinance” proposed by Councilman Larry B. Johnson. Assuming the measure makes it through a second reading at the council’s meeting next month, a permitting process for food trucks could be in place by late November.

Johnson brought the proposal forward as a way to reconcile two competing ordinances proposed by himself and Councilman Charles Bare. The compromise ordinance was supported by the Pensacola Food Truck Coalition and included several key changes from the version which Johnson had proposed earlier in the week.

After an hour of discussion and several minor changes, the ordinance was approved by a 6-2 vote, with Council members Brian Spencer and P.C. Wu dissenting. Wu said that he could not support any ordinance which did not provide “protection” for existing brick-and-mortar restaurant owners — specifically a 200-foot buffer recommended by the city’s planning board but which most of the council has not supported. Spencer echoed those sentiments, repeatedly stating that he was “disappointed” in the proposed ordinance, which he said “gutted” the planning board’s recommendation.

Compromise ordinance includes fewer restrictions

The regulations approved Thursday night would essentially allow food trucks to operate citywide, with the exception of the stretch of South Palafox Street between Garden Street and Plaza de Luna. The final ordinance removed restrictions in Johnson’s earlier draft which would have limited food trucks to commercially-zoned areas only. The ordinance also eliminated several other provisions which would have required food truck operators to obtain additional approvals or permits from other boards or agencies such as the Downtown Improvement Board or Architectural Review Board.

“I believe in the free market. I believe in capitalism,” said Johnson, “and I believe that this is the right thing to do.”

The ordinance adopted Thursday also bars food trucks from parking within 20 feet of an intersection or within commercial loading zones during business hours.

The Nomadic Eats food trucks serves customers at the Warrington Market Place food truck rally earlier this month.

The Nomadic Eats food trucks serves customers at the Warrington Market Place food truck rally earlier this month.

Downtown business crowd remains opposed

Philip Lowendick, district manager for the Hopjacks and Tin Cow restaurants, said that he spoke for 13 downtown restaurants and bars who were opposed to the proposed rules. “We as a group of food and beverage establishments support the original ordinance drafted during the food truck workshop,” he said, referring to a previous ordinance which included “buffer zone” that would bar food trucks from parking anywhere within 200 feet of a brick-and-mortar restaurant.

Real estate broker Michael Carro, who specializes in restaurant real estate, said that the ordinances proposed by both Johnson and Bare were “not bad, they’re just not there. They need modifications.” Carro also read a letter from develop Bobby Switzer, in which Switzer reiterated support for a 200-foot buffer zone. “I believe that food trucks have a place in Pensacola, but not on the narrow streets downtown,” Switzer wrote.

Additional changes possible before second reading

Further changes could be in store for the ordinance in advance of a second and final reading next month, with several council members expressing a desire to further tweak the legislation.

“There’s a couple of things in here that I don’t like, but I’m going to pass it tonight because I think we need to move these forward,” said Council President Andy Terhaar. “I’d like to see at least a minimum buffer zone … something minimum so that a food truck can’t just drive up where there’s a crowd waiting outside a restaurant and park right in front and take all their customers.” Terhaar also said he would like to see the prohibited area on Palafox Street enlarged to include side streets within a half-block of Palafox.


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