ST. PETERSBURG — The city is moving forward with changes to make it easier for food trucks to operate downtown.
The issue began more than two years ago as mobile kitchens like Maggie Loflin's began popping up in St. Petersburg, part of a larger trend that has saturated much of the rest of the nation.
While other cities have welcomed the trucks (there are rallies in Tampa regularly), the approach here has been more conservative.
The trucks aren't allowed on public streets downtown. And if a truck wants to sell to the public on private property, they must get a $40 temporary use permit each time, said Loflin, a veteran food trucker who operates Maggie on the Move.
The new regulations were presented to food truck operators, promoters and restaurant representatives Friday during a workshop at City Hall. They would allow for street parking in limited areas of downtown, establish an annual permit for operations conducted on private property and allow food truck rallies under certain conditions.
Anticipation couldn't be higher.
"We just need to get something set," Loflin said. "We need more than our seven trucks in St. Pete to build the scene."
Under the new regulations, the trucks still would be excluded from public street parking in the downtown core, but could potentially park in limited areas near Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street and Arlington Avenue. They would need to get a peddler's license, required for all street vending.
The new rules also would eliminate the need for trucks to get permits several times a year by creating an annual permit. It's unclear how much that would cost. Trucks would have limits on the number of days they could park at one spot, a provision that did not please some operators Friday.
City planner Derek Kilborn said officials are seeking a balance between the needs of a burgeoning industry and existing restaurants. There could be options for revisions later, he said.
"We hope by doing it this way we can secure the approval you guys are looking for," he said.
Loflin, a founding board member of the Gulf to Bay Food Truck Association, has found a way to navigate existing rules.
She often sets up near Bayfront Health and All Children's, just outside the downtown boundary, or goes elsewhere around town.
"We just go and park for a couple hours, feed people and go along our way," she said.
Still, she said, the food truck scene here won't grow if changes aren't made. Many of the ideas in the draft ordinance have been talked about for months, or years.
Ironically, the lag may have worked in operators' favor, Loflin said.
The trucks are becoming more visible around town, especially near breweries and establishments that don't serve food.
"I've seen how things have really softened," Loflin said. "People just see us differently than they did two years ago."
Kameel Stanley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, (727) 893-8643 or @cornandpotatoes on Twitter.