Patrons grabbing a local brew at Florida Keys Brewing Co. in Islamorada don’t have far to go for some authentic Mexican fare from Tacos Jalisco.
A food truck with roots in Key Largo expanded south more than two years ago — a successful marriage between the two local businesses on the brewery’s property.
“It’s a great part of our business and community,” Craig McBay, owner of Florida Keys Brewing Co., told the village’s Local Planning Agency members inside Founders Park Community Center on March 13.
Tacos Jalisco is one of four food trucks licensed through the village’s mobile food vending program, which began as a pilot in 2020 following council’s approval. With 10 licenses available, a number of restrictions were implemented to keep mobile food vendors away from village facilities, the Fills and 50 feet from U.S. 1. It also restricted operations in residential-zoned neighborhoods and abandoned business locations while prohibiting the use of Styrofoam and single-use plastics.
With the two-year pilot expiring in 2022, village planning officials are now proposing a permanent program that follows a similar framework. The village’s program also acknowledges the state’s preemption on mobile food trucks in 2020, which disallows local governments from registering, licensing or permitting them.
But municipalities can still determine where food trucks and trailers can be set up for business. The Islamorada Planning Department and Dan Gulizio, director, are seeking to sort that out with staff and the village’s Local Planning Agency.
During the March 13 LPA meeting, Gulizio unveiled a draft proposal that set guidelines on where mobile vending trucks could do business. It also defined a mobile food vendor, or food truck, to be a moveable vehicle that may cook, prepare and assemble food items.
Per the draft, food trucks would be able to conduct business in village center, tourist commercial and mobile home park districts, so long as they submitted a site plan and followed any additional requirements within the area where they were handing out food. Due to the state preemption, Gulizio said he no longer believes food trucks for special events are viable in residential zones.
“We’re trying to thread the needle from what we’re preempted from doing and what’s not permitted at all right now,” Gulizio said. “We tried to provide an avenue for those commercial operations that currently aren’t permitted under current land development regulations.”
Food trucks would be allowed to obtain temporary use permits for up to four special events per year. Gulizio said food vendors who frequent the Gigantic Nautical Flea Market every February wouldn’t be affected.
“Temporary use permits on village properties are looked at in a separate category,” Gulizio said. “We wouldn’t jeopardize that.”
Several LPA members had concerns with allowing food trucks in mobile home parks that are more residential, like the one near Orchid Street on Plantation Key.
“Do we want to see food trucks parked out in front of their neighborhood? I don’t think so,” said Lorie LaLonde, LPA vice chair.
Then there’s the new Sun Outdoors Islamorada, an RV lot and vacation home destination situated along the Old Highway that’s also zoned mobile home park. Gulizio said Sun Outdoors Islamorada has submitted an application to the village for a food truck. Attorney Rob Stober, working on behalf of Sun Outdoors Islamorada, said an RV park is a transient facility.
“It would fit in with the character because a food truck and an RV are often indistinguishable. They’re often built on the same frame, having the same outline. It does provide an affordable accommodation for the people who are visiting,” Stober said.
There were also questions over how the proposal and the food truck restriction in residential zones would affect caterers, like Craig Belcher, who runs Island Time Catering. He’s operated a food truck for five years and an open food trailer for more than 30 years.
“What’s the end goal that the village is trying to stop from happening? You’ve opened a Pandora’s box here when you talk about catering and events in people’s houses. There’s so many different scenarios, where’s the problem and what are you trying to fix?”
Gulizio said someone could still hire a caterer for a wedding event without drawing attention from the village or code enforcement. For events of more than 100 people, Gulizio said the village requires a temporary use permit. At that time, the village could condition the use of a food truck without any need to address it through the ordinance.
But Gulizio said the village would have several concerns if somebody wanted to run a food truck out of their single-family residence every day.
The matter was tabled by the LPA to consider more details on where food trucks are allowed.
Gulizio said he isn’t trying to put food trucks out of business or unfairly regulate catering operations. Rather, he said the village is trying to address issues of food trucks setting up in places such as the Fills or along the side of the road.