PILOT PROGRAM EXPIRED: WHAT’S NEXT FOR FOOD TRUCKS IN ISLAMORADA?

Brad’s Food Truck, located at the parking lot of Florida Keys Dive Center, is one of the latest food trucks within Islamorada. Keys Weekly File Photo

An increase in food trucks is creating a buzz within the Islamorada dining scene. A two-year village pilot program that regulated food trucks beginning in March 2020 expired a few months ago. 

With six food trucks now operating in Islamorada, village planning officials are taking on the task of developing regulations on a more permanent basis. And they recognize they can only do so much with the state of Florida preempting the ability for governments to license the use. In 2020, the legislature allowed food trucks to operate with only a state license from the Department of Business and Professional Regulation or the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. 

Planning Director Daniel Gulizio said the village can regulate where they operate and the types of improvements required. He presented the Local Planning Agency with a draft of what that would look like during a May 9 meeting at the Founders Park Community Center. Gulizio sought direction from LPA members on how to approach the issue based on the current local food truck situation. 

Within the draft, guidelines are based on a food truck, a vehicle that’s a public food establishment that’s moveable; a canteen truck, a vehicle selling prepackaged, pre-cooked foods; and food cart, or a mobile kitchen vehicle that isn’t self-propelled, set up on the street to prepare and sell food. 

Specifically, food trucks could operate at special events in the village with a temporary use permit that limits vendors to a maximum of four special events per year. Food trucks could operate in a village center, tourist commercial district and a mobile home park. 

Gulizio said a pending application before the village proposes four food trucks and a portable bar in a tourist commercial district. He said code doesn’t currently allow the use in that district. An amendment would be required if the board, village council and community want to move forward with the proposal, Gulizio said. 

There’s also a proposal for a food truck serving residents within a mobile home park on a permanent basis. LPA member Tony Hammon said a food truck in a mobile home district didn’t make sense to him. 

“I’m not saying at this point that we think it’s a good idea or bad idea,” Gulizio said. “I’m floating the idea for direction so I can get a better feel from a community standpoint whether or not that makes sense or whether or not we just focus on food trucks in the village center or even a neighborhood commercial district.”

Food trucks were required to be moved on a nightly basis under the pilot program. But Gulizio said that wasn’t happening. He said the village could stipulate that a food truck located in a commercial zone could remain mobile at all times and be allowed to park overnight as a way to deal with the issue.

Per the draft, setbacks for food trucks would be a minimum 50 feet from U.S. 1. They wouldn’t be allowed to operate on the Fills from MM 72 to MM 79.7 or on any vacant or abandoned property.  

In addition, use of styrofoam and single-use plastics would be prohibited. Mobile food vendors wouldn’t be allowed to discharge waste, fat, oil, grease or similar substances from the vehicle. All substances related to or generated from the vehicle would be taken with the vehicle when it leaves the premises. Hammon said he can see a huge issue with waste being dumped into existing swale that would create problems. 

“I just would like to make sure that it stays in the language there,” he said. 

LPA chairwoman Deb Gillis said the village needs to help protect brick and mortar businesses, as they have a lot of overhead. She said food trailers aren’t cheap, but they shouldn’t be able to pull up and park forever next to a business. 

“Somehow we need to craft so that they (food trucks) can’t stay forever.”

Vice chair Lorie LaLonde said there’s a need for more restaurants, whether brick and mortar or even a food truck. 

“I am an avid person who eats out quite frequently. There’s a lot of waiting going on. Our restaurants are jam-packed. They are very, very busy,” LaLonde said. 

Provided that a food truck operates on a site plan approval and has appropriate facilities and parking, LPA member Susan Rafanello said it essentially becomes a brick and mortar establishment with wheels. 

“Provided that it complies in a commercial zone area with proper site plan approvals, it all has the same restrictions as brick and mortar without the bricks,” she said. 

The draft also addresses canteen trucks, like a hot dog stand or ice cream cart. Those would be exempt from any provisions, so long as vehicles are only parked for a maximum of 15 minutes. Canteen trucks would be prohibited from operating within any right-of-way and may only operate on private property within a non-residential zoning district. Food carts are also addressed in the draft. They may be permitted on a temporary and short-term basis, subject to receiving a temporary use permit.

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Jim McCarthy is a northerner who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since his graduation from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 3 years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. Behind every community is resiliency and resolve in difficult times. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim serves as President of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. “It’s a group that lives by the motto ‘Service Above Self,’” he says. “We’ve done service projects at the Tavernier nursing home, sitting down and socializing with residents. “We’ve also supplied cameras to young students exploring the Keys ecosystem.” Jim loves sports, family and time exploring underneath the water depths.