Sunday, June 05, 2016

Food truck park an awesome idea

Food trucks are part of a culinary renaissance, offering healthy fast food at reasonable prices, without the high investment costs of "brick and mortar restaurants." Yet some politicians and policemen insist on insulting them, prohibiting them and even extorting money from them. That's wrong.

(Full disclosure:  More than a decade before I was born, my father returned from World War II and my parents briefly owned a food truck, selling food to football fans at Franklin Field in Philadelphia of a. Their entire profit was eaten alive by rapacious corrupt porcine Philadelphia policemen, extorting payoffs. My parents' little food truck business failed, victimized by corrupt Philadelphia policemen.)

In 2013-2014, bigoted St. Augustine Beach Commissioners -- including restaurant owner Brud Helhoski and hotel owner Richard O'Brien -- responded in louche low-rent redneck peckerwood fashion to obscene anti-competitive pressures.

The pressures came from prejudiced businessmen and unregistered lobbyists who wanted to ban food trucks. I was the first to speak against their inane idea, which was expressly to benefit "brick and mortar" businesses, including their own and those of their campaign contributors.

I reminded the august City of St. Augustine burghers that they have no antitrust immunity, and that the Institute for Justice or other public interest law firms might sue them for antitrust violations if they persisted in blocking competition from food trucks. Opponents whined, caviled and hollered about competition, sanitation and bathrooms, impugning "roach coaches."

In two itty-bitty cities, one small town, and county school board and county commissioners, our yokel local Board members sometimes remind me of a honky-tonk medley of veteran character actors Pat Hingle, Edward Binns and the Utah City Council in the original Footloose, headed by dour John Lithgow, who banned dancing and rock music (loosely based on events in Elmore City, Oklahoma).

Too many of our local officials are unenlightened, uninformed, unyoung, unfun, uncool, unhip, constantly acting to "protect" their prejudices (and their businesses), e.g., from plein air artists and musicians in downtown St. Augustine.

Some of them act like they've never smiled; like suspicious satrap St. Augustine Beach Commissioner ANDREA SAMUELS, they have a business plan: they're unhappy and they want to make others unhappy.

Too many local officials are cognitive misers -- "they know not that they know not that they know not," as my former client, retired FBI, HUD and EPA Senior Special Agent Robert E. Tyndall would say.

It's like the Koo Koo Klan were still in charge.

After the initial burps and belches of bumptious bumpkin prejudice -- countered by consistently  constructive suggestions by Brendan Schneck and others -- for six months, there was continuing dialogue about food trucks.

"Brick and mortar" restaurants were blatant in wanting government to "protect" them from perceived competition, when food trucks really compete with other fast food restaurants, not with sit-down restaurants.

Like a few other selfish capitalists in St. Augustine and St. Johns County, the St. Augustine Beach restauranteurs did not understand their own business and the nature of our alleged "free" market system.

People swimming and playing at the beach have a right to choices -- government policies must not be adopted to force tourists to pay higher prices for food at the beach.  Government does not exist to sell out to business owners, does it?

Treating tourist customers as captives is typical of mindless misguided mendacious business owners who see customers and employees as "marks" to be exploited.

For some six months, St. Augustine Beach Commissioners "listened" to both "sides," or pretended to -- they were guilty of stringing everyone along for six months of lengthy discussion.  The St. Augustine Record rightly blasted the St. Augustine Beach Commission for it.

Were they hoping for campaign contributions (or worse)?

I missed the final meeting of the St. Augustine Beach Commission in 2004 on food trucks -- a meeting where unenlightened, unhip, uncool Commissioners voted 5-0 to indulge "brick and mortar" businesses' mercantilist pressures to put competitors out of business.  (Unfortunately, being unable to be in two places at once,  I had to choose between two meetings that night.)

It was a damnable despicable display of worshiping putative "property rights," but it was in reality a violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act, which forbids "every contract, combination or conspiracy in restraint of trade."

They reminded me of Commodore Vanderbilt, who famously said to a reporter about a rate increase: "Let the public be damned!"

St. Augustine Beach Commissioners, maladroitly advised by DOUGLAS NELSON BURNETT, conflicted developer lawyer and City Attorney, 2009-2016, were sitting ducks for an a triple damages antitrust lawsuit.

Rather than suing the St. Augustine Beach for antitrust violations, Island Food Bowls proprietor Brendan Schneck had a better idea: a food truck park, item 3 on the June 7 (Tuesday) County Commission meeting.

The proposal comes with a favorable 6-0 recommendation from the Planning and Zoning Board.

I'm glad that the County is more enlightened than the City of St. Augustine Beach on this one.

The details reveal quite an ingenious idea! It comes with parking, rest rooms and a commissary kitchen, preserving existing trees.

What a wonderful idea. Our  County Commissioners will no doubt vote to support it, and new entrants in fast food, offering healthy, wholesome food, will have a venue directly across from our local McDonald's® -- what a wonderful world!

Saturday, June 4, 2016
St. Johns County Commission to consider food truck vending site near beach

St. Johns County commissioners on Tuesday, June 7, 2016, will consider a rezoning request at 1480 Old A1A S. that would allow for the development of an open-air mobile food truck vending establishment. Brendan Schneck, owner of Big Island Bowls food truck, is requesting to rezone the 0.59-acre property from Commercial General to Commercial Intensive.

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.


Great Idea

What a great idea to clean up that corner.

Good Luck to the Food Trucks.

boatfloyd 6/5/16 1:09 AM
That lot...

That lot had a building that sat vacant for a very long time (last time I remember it being a locals bar was the late 90's/early 00's). The only demo'd it quite recently. It was actually kind surprising how long it sat vacant, given that hole-in-the-wall bars are all the rage now.

I say let the food trucks park there if they want. We'll regulate some guy who wants to sell soup from a food truck to absolute death but can't be bothered to meaningfully regulate PUD's and other developments that negatively impact our communities.

Morris1 6/5/16 2:24 AM
Put a traffic light in...

I live in Menendez Park and support the concept but sure hope they do something to slow traffic down at the entrance to Old Beach. Don't have numbers to support, but pretty sure that is the most dangerous intersection on the island. It seems like an accident a week (including my father 6 months ago). Cars come screaming down A1A Beach heading north along the curve and are easily pushing 60 mph. Now you will add a lot of pedestrian traffic to the mix and more cars turning into food truck land. Maybe install some speed bumps or pedestrian walk way along Old Beach Road which has no sidewalk currently, but should in my opinion since so many people cross traffic there.

ebatles 6/5/16 7:01 AM
We have more lights than we need.

Use the big round thing in front of you and the petals on the floor.Drive. Walking out your front door in the morning is dangerous. Can't we for once just let the guy do his thing without turning it into a major cluster?

sponger2 6/5/16 8:22 AM

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