LARGO — The City Commission hit the brakes on food trucks this week, putting a proposed ordinance that would have streamlined the trucks' regular forays into the city on hold because of a long list of concerns.
"There are a lot of things about this that I think we need to think through," Mayor Pat Gerard said. "They may be attractive now and trendy, but maybe next year they'll look like trash."
On Nov. 19, Largo became the first Pinellas city to host a food truck rally, and Community Development staff had hoped it would be the first Pinellas city to pass an ordinance designed to accommodate the burgeoning industry.
But after the negative response from commissioners at Tuesday night's work session, community development director Carol Stricklin said her staff will develop a pilot program for food trucks that will incorporate some of the commission's concerns.
The proposed mobile food vendor ordinance would have allowed 15 food trucks to pay a $200 annual permit fee to operate in Largo. Food trucks would have to park on commercially zoned lots and would not be allowed to park in an area for more than 24 hours at a time.
Commissioner Harriet Crozier thought 15 permits was too many. Economic development manager Teresa Brydon said she was unsure the city would even get 15 applicants. Crozier also didn't like the hours of business — 6 a.m. to 3 a.m. Brydon pointed out that many food trucks generate good business outside bars that don't serve food, and Commissioner Woody Brown agreed.
"I'm not going to be there, but I think it should be a good option for them," he said.
Commissioner Bob Murray didn't think the $200 permit fee was enough, and felt that food trucks have unfair advantages over Largo's brick-and-mortar restaurants.
"Now you have this food truck that has this big banner on it, and it's sitting out there from 6 a.m. to 3 a.m.," Murray said. "To me, it doesn't seem to be fair to the businesses that exist in Largo."
Food trucks have other expenses, Brydon replied, like the rent they pay the owners of the lots they park on. She argued that trendy food trucks coming to Largo regularly would draw new people to the city, and potentially lead some of the truck owners to set up regular restaurants.
Commissioners were skeptical of the idea that food truck owners would ditch the wheels for a brick-and-mortar location in Largo.
"The nature of these food trucks … is not to be brick and mortar," said Brown. "Competition is good, so I say invite it."
Brown was in the minority, though, so the ordinance was scrapped for now.
Stricklin said she hoped to have a proposed pilot program back to the commission within the next two months.
Will Hobson can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or firstname.lastname@example.org.