Osceola County, FL: Food Trucks Face Tough Regulations in Osceola County

By Jeannette Rivera-Lyles | Orlando Sentinel

Vendors ask governments to ease rules amid food-truck fad

In parking lots throughout Orange County and near the beaches in Volusia County, food trucks are a daily fixture, selling everything from Korean tacos to cupcakes as part of the latest culinary fad.

But in Osceola County, the food-truck trend has been stalled by regulations that mobile vendors say are unreasonable.

In Kissimmee and unincorporated Osceola, food trucks are limited mainly to special events, such as fairs and concerts, to the dismay of some entrepreneurs. And in St. Cloud, food vendors battled for months with the City Council over rules that would have allowed them to be anchored at a permanent business, such as a big-box store, while still selling food at events.

In the end, the vendors lost, though they say they’ll keep fighting.

“It just isn’t something they’re interested in,” said Vinny Barber, a St. Cloud resident who owns Barber Q, a catering business in town. He wants to expand by selling barbecue from a 30-foot RV that he would park in a supermarket lot. Barber did that for a while using a temporary permit — until last month, when the city canceled such permits.

“Never mind that this has taken the country by storm,” Barber said of the food-truck phenomenon. “They don’t care. They don’t want to change the way things are.”

What began late last year as an attempt to find a way for mobile food vendors to operate ended recently with the adoption of regulations that are hard for a small business to meet, owners say. Those that want to anchor themselves at a permanent business are now required to file a site plan and to have public water, sewer and electrical connections. Dumpsters have to be enclosed in a permanent structure.

In some cases, vendors have to appear before different city boards for public hearings, all of which carry fees in the hundreds of dollars.

By contrast, Orlando and Orange County allow the trucks to operate in commercial and industrial areas as long as they have a state license for food vending. The trucks can’t block the way, have to be at least 10 feet from the road and must share space with an existing, permanent business. They aren’t required to have utility hookups. Most operate with generators and water tanks.

“If the state says they are OK to serve food, then they just have to follow these guidelines,” said Mitch Gordon, a manager at Orange County’s zoning division. “They’re quite simple.”

City of Kissimmee and county officials said they’ve had few inquiries for permanent mobile food-vending permits. But Salvador Torrens said that’s because the rules, which haven’t been revised in years, are so restrictive.

“I’ve called both the city and the county to try and reason about this,” said Torrens, who has two trucks that sell Caribbean fare in Orange County and wants to expand to Osceola. “I don’t get past the clerk in their zoning offices. I’m told time and again that it isn’t possible, and that’s that.”

Since new rules were approved in St. Cloud, nobody has applied for the permits, even though city officials had issued five temporary permits during a few months as the city explored what to do and fielded dozens of inquiries for others.

“They’ve made the restrictions so heavy that it is almost not worth it for a small business to go through all of that and spend that much money,” said Jimmy Cheney, who was selling roasted chicken on a temporary license out of his Chicken Shack truck.

“I would have to spend a few thousand dollars readying my truck for this and paying for hookup fees as well as city fees, and I still don’t have assurance that I’d get my permit. It still has to be approved by different boards — and pay more for that,” Barber said.

St. Cloud Mayor Rebecca Borders acknowledged that the strict rules might result in few mobile-food sales, but she said residents are not clamoring for food trucks.

“We don’t have a customer base that warrants this kind of business,” Borders said. “This wasn’t really to the benefit of our residents or of our existing businesses.”

Borders said that she and the City Council members were concerned that the trucks could pose a safety issue if parked inappropriately and would give the city an untidy appearance. During one of the meetings, council member Mickey Hopper said she didn’t want the city looking like “a circus.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Cheney said. “I told them at one of the meetings, ‘People, do you realize that there are food trucks all over Washington, D.C., and steps away from the [New York] stock exchange?’ “

Barber said he has gathered more than 2,000 signatures of residents who want businesses like his around, hoping that the council might reconsider. And Cheney said he will fight on another front: He has recruited his wife to run for City Council next year.