ST. PETERSBURG — Food trucks will have an easier time peddling their cuisine as the City Council loosened up regulations regarding the mobile kitchens Thursday.
The city has debated how to accommodate the growing demand for food trucks since 2011. A booming national trend, including Tampa, has been hampered in the city because of its burdensome regulations, food truck operators and advocates say.
"We've beat this horse to death," said council member Amy Foster.
The new rules would allow food truck rallies, let vendors buy an annual permit instead of costly temporary use permits and enable trucks to park on streets in limited areas downtown.
But the rule changes didn't come without sparring over how much food trucks cut into restaurants' profits.
Council member Jim Kennedy argued that the revised ordinance should prohibit food trucks within 500 feet of a bricks and mortar restaurant that pays property taxes.
"As a city, we don't want to do things that hurt our ad-valorem taxpaying businesses," Kennedy said.
But other council members didn't go along and his proposal died in a 6-2 vote.
Darden Rice, who had supported Kennedy's 500-foot rule, advanced a plan to reduce the boundary to 300 feet. That also failed by the same margin.
"It's two different experiences," said council member Steve Kornell, who said he's never decided to eat at a food truck en route to a restaurant. "I don't think there's going to be a problem.
Council member Charlie Gerdes noted that the city still prohibited food trucks in most of downtown, creating a buffer for many of the restaurants in the city's core.
Maggie Loflin, a founding member of the Gulf to Bay Mobile Food Truck Association, said her members don't compete against restaurants.
"We've found our niche within the city," she said.
Another Kennedy proposal — to bar food trucks from putting out tables and chairs in the public right-of-way — passed easily.
Charlie Frago can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8459. Follow him on Twitter @CharlieFrago