Food truck owners in Sarasota County scored a victory in 2016 after they teamed up with IJ to fight to reform some of the very worst food-truck laws in the country. As part of our National Street Vending Initiative, IJ teams up with food truck owners and traditional street vendors nationwide to challenge anti-competitive and burdensome laws that make it impossible to earn an honest living.
Sarasota County’s laws included a proximity restriction that prohibited food trucks from operating within 800 feet of brick-and-mortar restaurants, a prohibition on trucks operating within 750 feet of another truck, and they were outlawed in many specific zones. We helped two dozen food-truck owners form the SRQ Food Truck Alliance and trained them on how to be effective advocates for their cause. For over a year, we worked closely with county officials to craft a law that would allow these popular roaming entrepreneurs the freedom to thrive and serve their eager customers. County officials were hesitant to embrace food-truck freedom, but we testified at multiple hearings and participated in informal working groups to ensure they knew they had nothing to fear. Meanwhile, we organized food truck rallies, which were attended by thousands; secured media coverage; and consistently reached out to and mobilized the public to ensure that their support for food trucks was being heard.
Ultimately, the County passed a bill that has some problematic provisions but overall is a big step in the right direction. Trucks can now roam on private property; previously, all permits were site-specific. Six new zoning districts have been opened up, and the 800-foot proximity restriction was eliminated, as well as the prohibition on trucks operating within 750 feet of each other. Trucks are, however, prohibited within 150 feet of a residential structure, unless there’s an intervening nonresidential building. They are also required to get a special event permit if three or more trucks want to operate on one private property.
Unfortunately, the bill maintains site-specific approval for permits on public property; but at the final hearing, we laid the groundwork for the county to re-visit this once they see the benefits of roaming. And roaming is indeed necessary for the survival of food trucks: over the course of this prolonged debate, five trucks in Sarasota County closed their doors.
Overall, the ordinance is a huge improvement, and we look forward to monitoring the food truck scene and advocating for more reform in the future.