Flagler Beach’s odyssey with mobile food vendors continues unresolved: Thursday evening, the city commission decided yet again to delay any proposed regulation and revise the latest draft ordinance its attorney had submitted, though that last version had incorporated broader allowances commissioners themselves had asked for previously.
All this is happening even though commissioners agree that there is no serious mobile vending problem in the city. Aside from one ice cream truck that does roam the streets, and that all commissioners agree should be allowed to continue doing so, because it’s part of the city’s fabric and rusticity, the sighting of mobile food vendors is as rare as the sighting of whales offshore.
Commissioner Jane Mealy a year and a half ago initially proposed banning roving vendors as a matter of safety for pedestrians and of fairness for sedentary businesses that contend with overhead costs mobile vendors do not. The proposal was strongly resisted by the public and other commissioners, because it centered on the very popular ice cream truck Sandra Kinney occasionally operates in the city. Over time, Mealy was willing to make an exception for ice cream trucks but still regulate mobile vending in general, banning it on A1A and State Road 100. That got the commission’s nearly full support.
Earlier this month the commission voted 4-1, with Mealy in dissent, to adopt just such an ordinance. But commissioners wanted further amendments, adding some allowances and restrictions. Drew Smith, their attorney, submitted the revised proposal Thursday, a proposal he termed “a little more permissive” than its earlier version. But it was also significantly more cumbersome.
Rather than calling mobile vending a “unique challenge,” the new version merely “finds that it is necessary to regulate mobile food service operations” as a matter of safety. But rather than ban vendors, they would be allowed provided they secure an annual permit first. They would be allowed to operate on private property, as long as that property has been issued a business tax receipt. In other words, vendors would have to operate on other business properties. In addition to a city permit, mobile vendors would have to have a notarized permission form from the business where they’d be parked. And there couldn’t be more than one such mobile operation per parcel at any given time. The new version also would have allowed mobile vendors in the residential areas of the city (for 10 minutes at a time in any given spot), and allowed them to operate at special events.
The allowance for mobile vendors on private businesses’ property is designed to make it possible for a business to have, say, a hot dog cart outside—something the previous version banned.
Commissioners were not pleased.
“I think this is a recipe for total chaos,” Commission Chairman Steve Settle said. “I’d rather see current law and do nothing and let the market take care of it naturally than to do something like this.”
“If they’re building a house in the city and one of those food trucks pulls up at noon and wants to sell sandwiches to the guys that are working, building the house, I don’t see a problem with that, OK?” Commissioner Marshal Shupe said. “But I do have a problem with someone pulling up in front of a restaurant and trying to sell hot dogs and hamburgers. So now they go next door and get permission from the gas station to sell hot dogs.”
Mealy suggested adding restrictions on the number of mobile vendors within, for example, 200 feet of a business that sells products similar to those sold on the truck. “The challenge there is defining what is a ‘similar business,’” the attorney said.
“If you’ve ever owned a business competition wither makes you better or makes you worse, and you’ve got to make a personal choice,” Commissioner Joy McGrew said. “So I’m not real keen on saying, you private land owner don’t have the right to allow someone who has met the criteria to come on your property just because it’s a guy that sells a similar product right next door. That to me that’s not how entrepreneurship and business is built. So if the Cuban guy over here’s got Cuban burritos for $5 and the Cuban guy wants to set up a stand down by the hairdresser and he’s got them for $4, that’s not for us to regulate. That is not, in my opinion, that is not our job.”
“But she’s charging $5 because her expenses are higher, because she’s in a building,” Mealy said.
“Maybe yes, maybe no,” McGrew said. “I understand that side of it Jane. I do understand that side of it.”
Commissioner Kim Carney then pointed out: “Where is the onslaught of food trucks? We’re dealing with something for hours now, there’s not one food truck in Flagler Beach. So, I’m, with Joy, it’s not government’s job to set regulations on who sits where and who sells what and how they sell it. That is not government’s job. I just don’t want for the safety of our city because when we get busy during events, whenever, I just don’t want people stopping on the public roads, A1A and State Road 100. That is the area we have to focus on in this city, where we need to focus on, and just let the rest of it fall out. It’s not here yet. We’re not here yet. Where are they?”
In the end, commissioners directed Smith, their attorney, to again strike out any allowance for roving hot dog vendors—or vendors of any sort of food that isn’t pre-packaged—but pre-packaged sandwich trucks would be allowed to pull up on private properties and sell. They would be limited to 10 minutes of selling time in residential areas, but the limit would not apply in the business district if the trucks are parked on private property. But commissioners were not as interested in the permits and notarized requirements.
That means the city commission is back to zero, having to restart the process of approving a new ordinance next month, once the proposal is written, with two ordinance readings over two successive meetings. That’s assuming Smith’s latest version catches the essence of what the commissioners, who were themselves unclear, really want.
“I have enough feedback to make some suggested changes,” Smith said. “Now, we’ll get it on first reading and you’ll have another shot at it. You’ll have plenty of time to discuss it again. I do have feedback, I do have some ideas in mind. Whether or not they satisfy everybody or even a majority of you looks to be determined.”