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This week, Pensacola’s long-awaited food trucks ordinance will come back before the City Council for a second and final reading, and all indications are that it’s not going to go smoothly.

Reportedly dissatisfied with the ordinance passed by the council last month, some downtown restaurant owners appear to be pushing for last-minute changes to the ordinance. The issue isn’t on the docket for this afternoon’s City Council Agenda Conference meeting, but could be discussed in advance of the council’s regular meeting on Thursday night.

Abston pushing changes

Reached last week, downtown restaurateur Joe Abston told The Pulse that he was prepared to bring forward “compromise” changes to the ordinance, though he declined to go into detail about the nature of the changes. Abston said he had spoken to six city council members — though he wouldn’t say which ones — and believes he has their agreement.

City councilwoman Sherri Myers confirmed that she had spoken with Abston. “Joe Abston called me a few weeks ago and basically my understanding was that he didn’t want food trucks on the side streets close to brick and mortar,” Myers said. “I told Joe that I didn’t feel the city has an obligation to give special protection to brick and mortar businesses. I reminded him of how much the city spends promoting downtown business districts.”

Last Tuesday, after attending a meeting of downtown restaurant owners organized by Seville Quarter owner Wilmer Mitchell, Abston reached out to Pepper Dowdy of the Pensacola Food Truck Coalition about organizing a meeting with food truck operators. “I’ve been trying to set up a meeting, but I’m basically being stonewalled,” Abston said on Sunday.

Dowdy said that he did work last week to put such a meeting together, but his efforts ceased last Thursday morning after food truck operators told him they wouldn’t meet with Abston. “Given very recent developments, the key supporters and owners of the food truck community are no longer willing to sit down with Joe Abston,” said Dowdy.

That decision came after Abston’s alleged involvement in an incident on Wednesday evening at new downtown bar and restaurant The Vault. Randy Russell, operator of the Nomadic Eats food truck, posted about the incident on social media:

Representatives of The Vault did not respond to a request for comment.

Pensacola City Council member Brian Spencer. (The Pulse/Derek Cosson)

Pensacola City Council member Brian Spencer. (The Pulse/Derek Cosson)

Spencer wants distance restrictions restored

City councilman Brian Spencer said that he’d like to restore provisions from an earlier version of the ordinance which would prevent food trucks from operating within 200 feet of a restaurant.

“I intend to support the restoration of elements of the original workshop ordinance that define minimum distances between brick and mortar establishments and mobile food vendors while preserving a right for waiving the distance regulation by a brick and mortar establishment,” said Spencer in a statement.

Spencer said that he felt it was best to establish regulations and revisit them later as necessary. “It is my opinion that a significant increase in our downtown 24/7 residential and business population will serve as a legitimate reason to revisit the ordinance. Fast forward to our future… I am hopeful that downtown Pensacola will grow in density and population, so that mobile food vendors will serve an even more important and profitable role in meeting the demand for a variety of culinary options.”

Staff also recommending changes

City staff has also recommended several changes to the ordinance, including a provision which City Council Executive Donald Kraher says was recommended by the Fire Marshal. The provision reads, “food trucks shall not be positioned in a manner that prevents vehicular passage with a minimum of a 20 foot clearance.” Such a provision could prevent food trucks from operating on a number of downtown streets, and in a review of several other Florida cities’ food truck ordinances, Pulse staff could not find similar language.

In a memorandum to council members sent Friday, Kraher said that “staff anticipates that a number of other amendments to the ordinance may be presented” and asked that council members provide him with the text of any amendments before Thursday’s council meeting.

Pensacola City Council member Sherri Myers. (The Pulse/Derek Cosson)

Pensacola City Council member Sherri Myers. (The Pulse/Derek Cosson)

City councilwoman Sherri Myers said that she isn’t sure it would be legal for the city council to make such substantive changes to the ordinance on second reading. Citing a state law which requires ordinances to be publicly noticed in a newspaper ten days prior to a vote, Myers said she felt such a heavily amended ordinance would have to be re-noticed prior to adoption. Myers pointed to Florida Attorney General Option 82-93, in which then-Attorney General Jim Smith wrote, “it is my opinion that if any substantial or material changes or amendments are made during the process of enacting a municipal ordinance, the enactment process mandated by s. 166.041(3)(a) must begin anew with full compliance with the reading and notice requirements contained therein.”

“I will object to any amendments until we obtain an attorney general opinion, or the city attorney provides us with the legal basis for allowing the amendments to go forward,” said Myers.

Key players doubtful

Few of those close to the issue seem optimistic about the ordinance’s passage on second reading.

“This thing is going to be a mess,” Abston said on Sunday.

Councilwoman Myers said that she would not support passage of a substantially amended ordinance on second reading. “If the council passes [an amended ordinance], I am prepared to challenge the validity of it,” said Myers.

Mayor Ashton Hayward said last week that it’s important to find a happy medium between food trucks and the brick-and-mortar businesses which have invested in downtown. “Food trucks are incredibly important,” Hayward said. “Citizens want food trucks. I’m hoping we can pass an ordinance that can be a win-win.”

Pensacola’s city council will meet this afternoon in an agenda conference session. The meeting will begin at 3:30 p.m. in the Hagler/Mason Room, located on the second floor of City Hall. The council’s regular meeting is on Thursday night, beginning at 5:30 p.m. in the Council Chambers, located on the first floor.

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