Gulf Shores’ city leaders and residents discussed a possible ordinance change during last week’s council work session that could see food trucks and mobile vendor courts soon become a part of the …
Gulf Shores’ city leaders and residents discussed a possible ordinance change during last week’s council work session that could see food trucks and mobile vendor courts soon become a part of the city’s business landscape.
Planning Director Andy Bauer told the council the amendment to the ordinance contained two possibilities council members could approve: one governing mobile vendor courts for food trucks and then one just allowing food trucks at specific locations.
“What the proposed regulations will do is provide for minimum standards and an application review process for both food trucks and the mobile vendor court, both of which would only be allowed by conditional use permit approval,” Bauer said. “Conditional use permit approval must be processed in front of the planning commission and the city council in public hearings, and also conditional use permitting gives the planning commission and city council the authority to approve with conditions or deny the permit based on the individual specifics of each application.”
Bauer said the changes were proposed after hearing from members of the community.
“The reason we’ve developed this proposal is we’ve gotten requests from several local property owners and businesses owners that would like to either develop a property with a mobile vendor court or have a food truck at an existing business, so we thought that was something we could bring forward,” Bauer said.
A mobile vendor court, according to Bauer, would be a permanent site where a number of food trucks could park and situate for a long length of time.
“A mobile vendor court would have similar requirements as if you were building a new business,” Bauer said. “You have to put in parking, landscaping, drainage, utilities, bathrooms, so although it may not be as much of an investment as a new business, there is a significant amount of investment in going with the mobile vendor court idea. Because of that investment, staff believes it’s going to be on a lot more permanent basis than the food truck idea.”
Bauer told the council his staff felt more comfortable with the mobile vendor court idea and said the council could choose to allow individual food trucks at locations through the usage of a pilot program rather than a complete ordinance amendment.
Bauer added the city’s planning commission had three questions it was leaving up to the council to decide and mandate: locations food trucks would be permitted, whether or not vendors could rotate in a mobile food court and what, if any, signage would be allowed for these businesses.
Mayor Robert Craft reiterated this ordinance change would not just allow food trucks to pop up anywhere within the city.
“There’s nothing in here that allows for any type of food truck parking other than permanently affixed on private property,” Craft said. “They have to be on private property. It’s not on right of ways, not on city owned property, it’s not in the beach areas. This is just on a private piece of property if it’s a food court developed for that purpose or if it’s just on some other private business area designed for that purpose.”
Jim Shamburger, owner of Big Beach Brewing Company, is one of the business owners who would like to be able to offer food truck amenities as a addition to his business.
“As people go to breweries, not only around Alabama but everywhere else in the nation, part of the experience has to do with a food truck being there,” Shamburger said. “We didn't plan the brewery thinking a food truck was going to happen. This would be an enhancement for our business, but also for the city of Gulf Shores for them to be able to come here and try our beer but also enjoy the food truck experience.”
Shamburger said if the city chose to allow food trucks, they’d be following suit for other nearby municipalities in providing a service visitors and residents are asking for.
“As we look around our neighbors, we see Foley to the north, we see Orange Beach to the east and Pensacola - we see food trucks happening in other parts of our contiguous area and my feeling is if we don't follow suit or do something like that, we're going to be losing some tourism dollars or dining dollars,” Shamburger said.
Several residents spoke out against the ordinance change, however, including business owners nearby Shamburger’s brewery.
Charlie Rosser, who owns an interest in Tacky Jack’s restaurant, said his concern wasn’t possible competition with the food trucks but safety in the area.
“That intersection there where the brewery and Tacky Jack's is is probably one of the most dangerous places in this whole area,” Rosser said. “You can't tell me that there won't be cars parking on the side of the road to run up to the food truck to get a sandwich.”
Resident Richard Schwartz said he didn’t like changing the ordinance because it would only be for people who would stay just for the peak tourist season.
“You talk about going temporary because that’s the only way this is going to work here when you’ve got a 100 day season because they ain’t going to stay when there ain’t nothing there,” Schwartz said. “And there are competing people there who had to invest money and to go through the process to get to where we are today. I don’t think it’s fair to have temporary people come in to do a permanent job.”
Craft said the topic was a difficult issue, but one city leaders needed to discuss and come to a decision on.
“We look at it with concern on both sides because we don't want to hurt our people who have been established here, but we also don't want to get left behind because change happens,” Craft said. “Food trucks are change and change is difficult. Changing is not fun, it's not easy and it's difficult to analyze and establish. We have to keep up with the world and we can't get left behind. It's a difficult balance, but it's an important decision we're going to have to make. We're looking to future and trying to find the best way possible to get there without doing any harm.”