By Attiya Anthony | Sun-Sentinel
Food trucks are now a phenomenon, setting up curbside kitchens and selling delici
ous foods at gatherings in larger cities’ downtowns, from New York City to Miami.
But it’s unlikely you’ll see any taco, seafood or barbecue trucks rolling into downtown Boynton Beach. The smaller city, whose population is more than 71,000, has plans to spruce up its downtown with new apartments, offices and stores, and some city officials think allowing food trucks there would impede all that progress.
“If there are a bunch of trucks [downtown], a key part of Boynton Beach diminishes,” says City Commissioner David Merker, also a board member of the city’s redevelopment agency. “To me, this is a ridiculous thing, and it isn’t good for the city.”
Now, the food fight is on.
Kim Kelly, owner of Hurricane Alley Raw Bar & Restaurant, a seafood eatery at 529 E. Ocean Ave., is pushing for the city to allow the opening of a food-truck court downtown, and has begun rallying support for the idea.
At a recent public meeting, Vice Mayor Joe Casello said he thinks that food trucks downtown could be good for luring visitors to the city, but the city’s ordinances make it hard for that to happen.
“I don’t think any food truck will stop development in Boynton Beach,” Casello said.
Kelly, whose food truck is called the “Chowder Truck n’ Snack Shack,” says a food-truck court, or gathering spot, would help generate business for all downtown establishments.
“We need to bring some forward-thinking to Boynton Beach,” she said. “What I’m looking to do is bring people downtown — I’ve been here for 20 years — and a food-truck court, even temporarily, will help generate more business downtown.
“It’ll be a great addition for those who are on their way to the beach or the marina.”
Boynton Beach doesn’t have an outright ban on food trucks downtown. It allows food trucks there during special events. Elsewhere in the city, it has three approved food truck sites situated outside of breweries.
And yet, the city’s list of conditions has tended to keep the trucks from becoming a downtown fixture.
In 2013, Boynton Beach shut down a food truck rally that was held at Harvey Oyer Jr. Park, at 2240 N. Federal Highway, because of complaints from residents and business owners, leading to stricter regulation by the city. That event drew close to 500 people a month.
City officials said that Federal Highway is a crucial part of downtown, and transforming the highway from a dormant corridor into a lively destination should exclude food trucks.
Merker said allowing food trucks downtown would be unfair to other businesses, and it doesn’t help the city’s image. “It’s an eyesore,” he said. “It’s on a main strip that the city is trying to develop and you put trucks on it? They might as well be garbage trucks.”
Among the planned developments along Federal Highway is 500 Ocean, a $4.4 million multi-use complex with 341 luxury rentals, 13,300 square feet of retail space and 6,600 square feet of office space.
“I have a vision of Boynton Beach,” said Woodrow Hay, redevelopment agency board member, at a recent meeting. “And that corner [of Federal Highway and Ocean Avenue] is a major, major corner and what I had envisioned was not a food truck.”
Kelly said she thought she had found a way to open her food truck downtown recently, even initially receiving a positive response from the city.
Earlier this month, the city’s redevelopment agency agreed to let Kelly temporarily open her food truck as long as she complied with the city’s stipulations. The plan was to turn a vacant lot at 222 N. Federal Highway into a landing spot for food trucks to help lure visitors downtown.
As part of the three-month trial run, the city’s redevelopment agency asked Kelly to put grass in the vacant lot, secure safe parking at the lot next door and pay $600 to the Children’s Schoolhouse Museum, a historic children’s museum, in lieu of rent.
Kelly agreed to the deal, and planned to open her food truck by July. But then city staff weighed in and rebuffed her proposal because it didn’t meet the city’s space and parking requirements.
Food trucks have been popular nationwide, their numbers growing each year, according to Roaming Hunger, a Los Angeles-based company that tracks food trucks nationwide. As of this year, the company tallied about 6,500 food trucks across the country.
Food-truck courts, such as the one proposed downtown by Kelly, can be a great way to unite the community, said Ross Resnick, Roaming Hunger’s founder.
“A food-truck court has about three to five food trucks, usually music and people congregating in one place,” Resnick said. “Food is about uniting people and bringing groups of people together and food trucks do that.”
“Food trucks are a million-dollar industry in this country,” Resnick said. “People have really responded to the idea.”
Elsewhere across South Florida, cities similarly have restricted food trucks.
They are banned in downtown Delray Beach, but that city currently has a thriving food-truck pilot program in its industrial area. Boca Raton only allows food trucks downtown for special events. Coral Springs’ two-year pilot program, approved until next year, permits food trucks at city-sponsored events.
In Boynton Beach, food trucks have been allowed to operate outside of two breweries in industrial areas: at Due South Brewery, at 2900 High Ridge Road No. 3, and at Cooperpoint Brewery, at 151 Commerce Road.
And this month, the city similarly approved food trucks to operate outside Devour Brewery at 1500 SW 30th Ave., according to Nancy Byrne, Boynton Beach’s development director.
“It seems logical that food trucks are a complementary business to the [brewery] tasting rooms, which don’t serve food,” Byrne said.
Moving forward, Kelly said if she’s not allowed to operate her food truck downtown, she may take her truck to another city. There, she’d serve her food truck’s chowders, lobster mac ‘n’ cheese, French fries, onion rings and other dishes.
“I’d love to stay in downtown Boynton Beach,” she said. “But I have to do what’s good for business.”