The public seating area in the Port St. Joe commission hall was full Tuesday afternoon, with excess audience members standing at the back of the room. Many brought along notes or a printed version of that day’s agenda. Others brought talking points they wanted to hear addressed.
But all came ready to listen to commissioners’ plan for a new food truck ordinance, which they hope will give the city some regulatory abilities over the mobile restaurants.
“We have a vast array of regulations that we can place on food trucks,” said the city’s attorney, Clinton McCahill, opening the meeting. “The entire purpose of this draft ordinance was to set forth the regulation of food trucks in the City of Port St. Joe. It’s just a rough draft, and I was hoping to get input from the commissioners and the community, for the commission to decide what they want to leave in and what they want to take out.”
The drafted ordinance would limit food trucks to lots in commercially-zoned areas and force food truck operators to gain written permission from the landowner before setting up. But the draft makes no moves to ban food trucks or issue fees or permits to operate the businesses.
These rights, McCahill said, had already been preempted by the state.
In July 2020, the state legislature voted to prohibit local governments from establishing a license, fee, permit for food trucks. In August, 2021, a judge concluded a city could not ban food trucks within city limits.
Several residents of Port St. Joe stepped up to the podium to voice their appreciation for food trucks and the versatility they could offer the area, including several individuals currently working in the food and hospitality industry.
“The food scene here, for a rural community is, well, I think it’s fantastic,” said Huy Nguyen, who owns the View on Old 98 in Windmark Beach. “It’s going to get even better because of the competition.”
Nguyen, who plans to set up a food truck himself, was not opposed to local regulations, but stated for the record that he felt the businesses could add vibrancy to the city, if applied properly.
“So I think what’s going to happen naturally in a competitive state like this, for us to get even better is entrepreneurs like myself, will take this ordinance, and properly find our niches,” he said. “That’s my intent. And I think what you’re going to have is a town that is accommodating this explosive growth in tourism.”
Commissioners agreed that these suggestions and viewpoints would be taken into account and issued several requests for change in the ordinance – including expanding the proposed hours of operations and removing a clause banning the use of tables, chairs and tents.
Police Chief Jake Richards expressed concerns about the ordinance’s enforceability and requested language be added giving his officers more authority to impose fines or penalties for refusal to comply with the legislation.
McCahill agreed to write these changes into the ordinance and to provide options for items commissioners remained unsettled on to be discussed at another workshop in the near future.
“We had a good meeting and a lot of good discussion on ideas,” said Mayor Rex Buzzett in closing. “And we’ll continue this with the attorney, let him go through it. We’ll have to have another reading and we’ll probably need to have another workshop.”