Editor's note: This story has been updated from the April 4 print edition to reflect additional information received after deadline.
The issue of food trucks in Apalachicola heated up Tuesday night, as Apalachicola city commissioners voted to seek a court order to compel a local vendor from operating downtown.
By a 3-1 vote, with Jimmy Elliott opposed, the city plans to seek a declaratory judgment from Circuit Judge Charles Dodson that would stop “Bacon Me Crazy” from operating out of the Apalachicola Ice Company at 252 Water Street.
The motion also calls for the city to ask that Ashley Grieg, owner of the truck, be fined for each day of operation after she was issued a first notice of violation on March 26 by Wilbur Bellew, the city’s code enforcement officer.
City Manager Ron Nalley said that Grieg, who operates the truck on private property, continues to be without a city-issued occupational license, and in violation of the city’s Land Development Code that governs the commercial district on that block.
He said Bellew’s first notice of violation was ignored, leaving city officials no choice but to pursue farther options. “Basically we need a judge telling her she needs to stop,” Nalley said.
In a response following Tuesday evening’s meeting, at which she was not in attendance, Grieg said she wrote to Bellew the day after she was served a notice of violation, asking by what authority the city had to shut down the food truck. She said that when she applied in mid-December for her occupational license, she was told it would be reviewed by planning and zoning and finalized within two weeks.
“However my application never made it to the desk of P & Z,” Grieg wrote. “(City Planner) Cindy Clark pulled my application, not allowing it to go through the proper process as other businesses similar to mine have in the past.”
Grieg went on to write that at the city commission’s Feb. 5 meeting, City Attorney Patrick Floyd had said that “in this particular situation, there’s not anything that we have in code that prohibits this particular use. Therefore that principle comes into play that that person can do it.
“A few weeks later I spoke with Mr. Floyd over the phone and he stated that after the meeting he was told by commissioners that he was wrong for saying that at the meeting,” she wrote in her letter to Bellew. “Let me remind you that commissioners speaking about my business outside of a public city meeting is a violation of The Sunshine Law.”
Grieg indicated that the proposed mobile food vendor ordinance had been tabled at the March meeting. “Also I have been made aware that the ordinance writing process is in the hands of Cindy Clark who is not qualified for the task,” she wrote. “Another issue with Mrs. Clark writing the ordinance is that she is opening a cafe two blocks from my location and that is a huge conflict of interest. My direct competition should not be allowed to make the rules pertaining to what my business can and cannot do.”
At Tuesday’s meeting. Elliott spoke against taking court action, noting that after being forced to find other income following the closure of Harry A’s after Hurricane Michael, Grieg had looked to other options.
“This one individual took what money she had to invest in this business,” he said. “I don’t think see anything wrong with that, and why the city can’t help her make a living here.”
Elliott’s colleagues disagreed. “The city saw repeated violations and gave warning,” said Anita Grove, who made the motion, with Brenda Ash seconding.
“I feel like we have to enforce the laws we make,” she said. “There are a lot of people waiting for this same ordinance to pass. How fair is that for them?”
Mayor Van Johnson echoed Grove’s feelings. “She is operating her business outside of the law. What are we supposed to say, that it’s OK?” he said.
“There are extenuating circumstances,” said Elliott.
Grieg’s appearance in early February before city commissioners, in which she appealed for the right to operate her food truck, gave rise to an expedited process to create rules surrounding food trucks in the city.
The creation of that ordinance was also taken up at Tuesday’s meeting, and passed on first reading by a 3-1 vote, with Mayor Van Johnson opposed. That ordinance now faces a public hearing and a subsequent vote before it is enacted into law.
In his report to commissioners, Nalley said that while there are no rules regarding development standards for mobile food vendors in the zoning ordinance, the city has informally allowed them on a temporary basis in conjunction with events and festivals.
He said that the original proposed ordinance assigned a principal use designation to such food trucks, and thus would make them subject to meeting standards such as lot coverage, stormwater and parking that are associated with principal uses.
Because this ordinance required more time to determine compatible use standards, staff recommended tabling it in March, Nalley said. Instead, they have now drafted an ordinance that would allow permitted food trucks on a temporary basis, no more than three days a week, without making them subject to a more complex series of principal use commercial development standards.
The proposed ordnance still requires a vendor submit a site plan, and that they comply with all solid waste disposal rules. But it would grant them far more leeway where they can operate on commercial lots. It also would limit their hours of operation to between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. daily, and their size could be no more than 24 feet long and 10 feet wide.
Apalachicola businessman John Lee spoke out on the measure, suggesting that rules be tightened as to exactly where and when they could operate, suggesting that the city parking lot off Avenue I, between Market and Commerce Streets, across from the Water Street Hotel, might be a good place. He said many of the restaurateurs who have backed Grieg operating a food truck on Water Street are themselves planning to introduce food trucks into their range of operations.
Lee also warned that a proliferation of food trucks in the downtown could take away from the unique small-town atmosphere that Apalachicola has nurtured.