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Commission Unanimously Denies Siesta Key Food Truck Permit

Commissioner Nora Patterson said the Gumbo Mojo truck is too large for Siesta Key.

Updated 3:37 p.m.

The Gumbo Mojo food truck is going to have to find somewhere other than Siesta Key to sell its food.

The County Commission unanimously voted Tuesday morning to deny a temporary use permit for Gumbo Mojo on Canal Road near Calle Menorca.

Simply, the 20-foot by 8-foot truck is too big for Siesta Key, said Commissioner Nora Patterson, and she doesn't want to see food trucks on the key and thinks there would be traffic and parking issues.

"I'm not hoping you'll find another location on Siesta Key," she said. "There are other areas in the county that you'll be very successful, and this one is just really rough. I have trouble with it on Siesta Key, period—something that large."

Commissioner Carolyn Mason also said Siesta Key isn't a good fit.

"I don't think the village is the right location for this unlike just down the street from us where there are food trucks," Mason said of the Suncoast Food Trucks. "I believe they are more suited for an urban setting like just down the street on Ringling."

Thaxton said that the use of a public right of way for a private purpose is not appropriate in Siesta Key Village.

"I'm not a big fan of imposing on that very delicate balancing act that could disrupt all the work has had there," he said of resolving conflicts between businesses and between residents and the businesses. "I don't think it's appropriately located there with respect to either residential or existing commercial businesses."

Gumbo Mojo owner Tony Bonasto offered restaurants and the county a compromise saying he would not operate while the restaurants are open—either early afternoon or after 10 p.m., but still be open for the bar crowd.

"Why not seriously consider offering any and all advantages on visitors to our community and place less emphasis on discouraging and quashing local residents from offering small businesses like ours in the village?" Bonasto asked.

The issue with staying open for the bar crowd is that if the restaurant serves hard liquor, the kitchen is required to stay open until closing time, said Siesta Key Village Association President Russell Matthes.

"There's a lot of food business after 10 p.m.," Matthes said.

Matthes also told the commission that parking, traffic and competition were key reasons why the association oppossed the permit, adding that the association's businesses contribute special taxes to maintain the village's appearance.

"We're not afraid of competition, but if their overhead is substantially lower than ours, they potentially could undercut our prices," Matthes said. "We feel like that's not an even playing field."

Andrew Seely, owner of Flying Sliders and Suncoast Food Trucks, said these food trucks give people a chance to try something different while visiting town.

"We can only enhance the business on Siesta Key, Sarasota County in general, because we're bringing people to try something new," he said.

Dave Stewart, owner of Captain Curt's Crab & Oyster Bar also felt like competition needed to be even.

"I'm all for free enterprise; however, we need to do it on a level playing field," Stewart said. "We pay a lot of money in taxes and square footage for our operation."

Patterson also said she would not want the food truck to be near Siesta Beach, fearing the truck would take away sales from the concession stands there.

Bonasto also anticipated most of his business, if not all, to be walk-up after folks get out of their car at the municipal lot on Canal Road and walk to the village.

"I don't understand how our vehicle is, being placed where it's proposed to be placed at, proposes any worse parking situation than already exists," Bonasto said. "...They park in public parking or legally park on the street. We're not going to be inviting people to park illegally just to come to our business."

The Arlington, Va.-based National Street Vending Initiative told Patch Monday that governments should have a narrow scope of determining where to allow food trucks and that governments protecting businesses is not one of them.

Claudia Murray, an attorney for the Institute For Justice Florida chapter, said after watching the hearing today, she believes the commissioners need to understand what food trucks are and are not.

"It's obvious that the commission has a fundamental misunderstanding of what a food truck is," Murray told Patch. "...With all those fundamental misunderstandings, it's inadvisible to make policy blindly like that."

Murray says food trucks aren't a sit-down restaurant on wheels placing tables and chairs everywhere unless it's at a rally—it's more of a hot dog cart function.

She understands the concerns about public safety, but that wasn't an issue in the proposed location, Murray said, especially with the walking from folks in the rental properties nearby and the folks on their way to the village from parking lots.

"Food truck entrepreneurs want to go places where people can safely eat their food and buy their food," she said. "I think there's usually a misunderstaning where people think there's 20 people in line. It's not like that. People walk up to eat or get their food and walk away."

One study that the National Street Vending Initiative looked at is how the presences of the trucks also help deter crime, Murray pointed out. That could be of use on Siesta Key where a rash of car burglaries this summer victimized several people who parked at beach accesses.

"You have eyes on the street," she said. "If these people set up beside a parking lot, it would be more difficult for them to break in, knowing there are people around."

If Sarasota County—or the city—would want to make the area a better one for food trucks, she's willing to help.

"We're happy to help them revise their laws to make it more business friendly," Murray said of Sarasota County.

Stay with Patch for more updates to this developing story.

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Beverly Kingsley October 24, 2012 at 06:15 PM
The businesses there opposed. Did the residents and shoppers get to give input? I emailed the commissioners but I suspect it fell on dead ears.
Brian Schwaab October 24, 2012 at 06:22 PM
Robert I agree 100%
Charles Schelle October 24, 2012 at 07:17 PM
For street cart and food truck vendors, Claudia Murray with the Institute of Justice Florida Chapter, said food truck entrepreneurs can talk to their non-profit for advice for loosening up laws, etc. They also operate the Tampa Bay Mobile Food Vending Alliance, but it doesn't appear that it includes any Sarasota members. That information can be found at: http://www.ij.org/nsvi and https://www.facebook.com/pages/Tampa-Bay-Mobile-Food-Vending-Alliance/190712477700857
Mark Gabrick October 24, 2012 at 07:31 PM
Quite nice to see all of the support this article has received. I'm hoping to be in SRQ within the next 2-3 months. Please come and give us a try. https://www.facebook.com/TheHogfatherBBQ
RAJ (Bo) McMerritt October 25, 2012 at 12:18 PM
Revolt, anarchy... better yet vote these commissioners out..they have no clue what 'we' want rather they have what 'they' want...I want one of those $15.00 margaritas

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