In recent years there has been bad blood between owners of a few food trucks and downtown restaurants about how the trucks should be regulated.
And that argument resurfaced a few months ago after a food truck court opened next to the SunTrust building in downtown Jacksonville.
Every weekday, people flock to the courtyard for lunch, which consists of about five food trucks parked side by side. Some restaurants say the trucks are doing significant business for them, but are not investing in downtown real estate as they have been before. The restaurant owners have joined forces.
Jacksonville City Councilor Scott Wilson said no compromise had been reached after several meetings between the two groups. So he urged those interested to give him a call if anyone had a reasonable solution.
Wednesday night a restaurant owner called to meet Wilson and suggested a compromise.
“We had a list of 25 items that we wanted (action) and the procrastination and political clashes have knocked us into one, and basically we’re just asking for a little help now,” said Tom Thornton, owner of The Bank BBQ and Bakery on Forsyth Street.
Thornton, who has led the brick and mortar side, has called for laws that would limit food trucks to only one per block, what the city calls block space. That way they couldn’t gather in a food court.
He also asked that the current requirement of 50 feet between food trucks and restaurants be increased to 150 feet and applied to the distance between food trucks.
Thornton said breaking open the food court wouldn’t solve the problem, but it might help. He said downtown restaurants are closing because of the food trucks, but Wilson said new restaurants are also opening and things seem to be doing well.
Other restaurant and food truck owners filled the space along with Wilson and Council members Reggie Brown and Bill Gulliford.
Gulliford said he doesn’t think passing this legislation would allow the city to dismantle the food truck court, which operates with a private-property business license. The town’s lawyers did not have an immediate answer, so Gulliford asked them to investigate and get the answer at a future meeting.
However, Gulliford does not believe that fair restaurants need to provide bathrooms, but food trucks with seating do not. He said there should be a level playing field.
“I think food trucks can’t put tables and chairs if they don’t have facilities. We’ll probably have to formalize that,” said Gulliford.
While it’s not certain that the city’s legislation could shut down the food court, Brown said it might be worth proposing laws for the future. “We have to learn never to do this again,” he said.
Brown sponsored a 2014 bill to regulate food trucks.
Aundra Wallace, CEO of the Downtown Investment Authority, also spoke at the meeting, saying he met with the restaurant owners and told them that the area of one truck per block is the best compromise, but he does not encourage the council to gauge the distance between Trucks and lorries raise restaurant storefronts. He said this rule would leave almost no places for food trucks.
Wallace said he would provide maps at the next meeting of where food trucks might be with different distance requirements.
Although not discussed during the meeting, Gulliford said after the meeting that he would like to consider whether trucks will have to pay a fee to operate in the city center, as bricks and mortar pay property taxes.
“I want to see a lot of business, but we want to be as fair as possible to everyone,” he said.
However, Jack Shad, co-founder of the Food Truck Court, said he doesn’t think the way to improve downtown is to pile up more restrictions. He said the people who work downtown enjoy going outside and choosing from a variety of trucks.
“I would love to see how we focus on how we want to get people to be downtown,” he said. “How do we get companies to settle in the city center? How do we get people to want to live in the inner city? “
And other food truck owners during the meeting said trucks weren’t the problem, and if customers choose trucks instead of bricks and mortar, trucks shouldn’t be penalized for it.
The group of restaurant and food truck owners, as well as the three city council members, plan to meet again in a few weeks to get answers to some of the questions asked at the meeting.
Gulliford said he wasn’t sure he was going to propose laws as he represented the beaches and not the city center.
“I’m not sure yet,” said Gulliford. “Maybe the three of us will introduce ourselves together.”
Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at [email protected], 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @ lindskilbride.