By Jake Martin | The St. Augustine Record
St. Johns County commissioners on Tuesday will consider a rezoning request at 1480 Old A1A S. that would allow for the development of a mobile food truck vending establishment and associated outdoor sales activities.
The applicant, Brendan Schneck, owner of Big Island Bowls food truck, is requesting to rezone the 0.59-acre property from Commercial General to Commercial Intensive.
The change could pave the way for several mobile food vendors to set up shop on the now vacant property, which has existing vehicular access from Old A1A S. and Old Beach Road.
According to county documents, a previous establishment, Big Joes Restaurant, was located on the site but has been closed for some time and the structure since demolished.
The surrounding area mainly consists of commercial businesses along the intersection of State Road A1A South and State Road 312/A1A Beach Boulevard including McDonald’s, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits, Aqua East Surf Shop, SAFE Pet Rescue and Atlantic Automotive & Quick Lube. However, existing development also includes single-family residential units immediately adjacent to the east.
Schneck’s concept plan includes construction of a 1,000 square-foot commissary kitchen with restrooms and a waste facility. The site would also be developed with six pad spaces for mobile food vendors, outdoor dining areas and associated parking. Five existing trees, including a large cedar, also made it into the concept plan as landscape features. Connections to central water and sewer provided by the St. Johns County Utility Department.
In terms of operations, according to the application, food trucks will be stationary during the week with some occasional off-site weekend travel for events. Vendors would be allowed to lease the spaces for as long as they wish.
The county’s Planning and Zoning Agency on May 5 unanimously recommended approval of the rezoning with conditions. Those conditions recommended limiting the permitted uses under Commercial Intensive to only add the use of mobile food vending units and continuing to allow Commercial General zoning uses by right and special use.
“Our vision is to create a new attraction for St. Augustine that will promote a healthier lifestyle and which incorporates a green practices business model,” Schneck wrote in his application. “The commercial intensive zoning designation would allow us to locate our restaurant ‘style’ use on the property, allowing several mobile food vendors to locate onsite where pedestrian traffic and vehicular traffic would provide a prime location for this type of use.”
According to the application, the property is owned by St. Augustine Realty LLC, based in West Islip, New York. The business provided an email address including Schneck’s name in its contact information.
Schneck was not available for comment for this story.
County staff received several emails from community members in support of the rezoning. Staff also received correspondence in opposition to the request, citing concerns of increased traffic and potential additional uses that could be allowed under the rezoning.
Letters of support pointed to the project’s potential benefits to the community in the form of providing healthy, organic eating options in a “family-friendly atmosphere” that can be used year round.
As written in a May 9 letter to the county from Patricia Dobosz, owner of The Kenwood Inn on Marine Street: “Food trucks are popping up everywhere and to have a great collection of several in one location only makes sense to me.”
Barbara Olson, who owns property on Old Beach Road across the street from the proposed rezoning, wrote a letter to the county on April 25 that included concerns about the project and requests for additional information. She had questions regarding operating hours, the number of trucks that would be permitted on site at any given time and any potential effects on traffic.
By May 4, a follow-up letter indicated a conference call between Olson’s family, county staff and Schneck alleviated many of those concerns.
Olson wrote she was pleased with the plans for landscaping and the owner’s “sensitivity to aesthetics.” She also requested that the county monitor traffic as the business takes hold and to provide mitigation for bicyclists and pedestrians as appropriate.
“Plans to mitigate noise and light pollution are reasonable and certainly no more threatening than other businesses that might occupy the space,” Olson wrote. “Their business will be a nice addition to the neighborhood.”
A May 4 letter to the county from James and Maureen Long of Castile Street was less enthusiastic about the project, claiming the potential list of allowable uses for the property is too vast if rezoned to Commercial Intensive.
“The property flanks a main entrance to one of the oldest family neighborhoods on Anastasia Island, and we feel the safety and quality of life here in Menendez Park would be threatened by this change,” the letter said. “As this property is zoned currently, Commercial General, the opportunity to create a brick and mortar type business already exists along with proper parking and sanitation requirements being easily met by the property owners.”
Schneck’s application claims his open-air mobile food vending proposal would have “identical impacts” to a traditional brick and mortar restaurant when it comes to traffic. Additionally, the concept plan incorporates incompatibility buffers along property lines that could potentially include a wooden fence, with vegetation covering any blank fence or wall space.
“The former restaurant did not have these buffers to mitigate impacts on neighboring properties and would thus be an overall improvement of livability for residents in the area,” Schneck wrote. “The end product would benefit the local area by providing a variety of healthy foods, a business model not yet seen in the County, and the potential to stimulate growth of future commercial business in the surrounding area.”
According to previous reports in The Record, Schneck petitioned the St. Augustine Beach City Commission in July 2014 to consider ordinance changes that would have permitted him and other vendors to operate food trucks anywhere on the beach, including private or public locations.
Vendors could only operate their food trucks at the beach during the Wednesday Farmers Market at the St. Johns County Ocean Pier. But vendors said that wasn’t giving them enough opportunity to reach customers.
Beach commissioners voted against the proposed ordinance, which included several stipulations that had been worked in over six months of discussions.
Throughout the process, many local restaurant owners had appeared before the commission to voice their concerns about equitable competition. Some said it was unfair for food trucks to be able move from location to location when they’re having a rough business day.
Commissioners cited issues including authorized parking spaces and the lack of restroom regulations in their negative decision.