Proposed City Rules Affect Food Trucks, Downtown Buildings, More

The evolution of food trucks from simple commissaries to rolling kitchens serving gourmet morsels has promoted the city to consider changes regulating their waste disposal.

Today, the City Commission will hold public hearings and votes on food truck regulations and a dozen other ordinances that will amend Lakeland’s land development code, last updated in 2013.

While some of the proposed changes could be called bookkeeping, others are more far-reaching.Among the issues being considered:

City Planning Manager Teresa Maio told commissioners during a recent policy workshop that the proposed changes stem from issues that staff has observed are not working as anticipated or that people in the community say are not working for them.

“Most of these changes are less restrictive but some bring more regulations,” Maio said.

Food trucks

Old-style food trucks served packaged and pre-cooked foods so produced mostly solid wastes, such as paper, plastic utensils and beverage containers, said Matt Lyons, principal planner for development review and zoning. But modern food trucks offer ethnic, specialty and gourmet foods prepared on site, resulting in solid waste, liquid waste, grease and used cooking oil.

“Our main concern is we don’t know where the waste is going,” Lyons said. “We don’t know if they are dumping it in a storm sewer, a sanitary sewer, or even their back yards. Mostly, this is to regulate where the waste is going.”

Under the amended ordinance, operators would have to provide documentation logs that show the source of potable water and the amount of liquid waste, grease and used cooking oil disposed and where and when. The logs would have to be kept on the trucks and available to Water Utilities inspectors.

”If you want to make sure they are compliant, you would have a place where they could dump it.” Mayor Bill Mutz said. “Having designated points that are accessible, are on the way and are open the hours that are convenient is what makes people compliant.”

Maio said the Water Utilities Department is looking into providing those services.

The proposed ordinance also dictates in which zoning districts food trucks can be parked, establishes parking setback rules and requires that permanent restrooms be available on the property.

Food truck courts of two or more trucks would continue to fall under separate conditional permit regulations.

Food truck rallies would be exempt from the waste disposal regulations and would continue to fall under special event rules, Lyons said.

General updates

Lyons said that the current method of trying to list every possible business that may locate in a particular zoning category is “kind of top-down heavy handed,” especially in commercial districts.

“We have listings in the code that date back to the 1960s and 1970s, things like blueprinting. It is kind of a silly approach,” he said.

The amended code would list general categories of allowed businesses and industries, going into specifics if certain businesses or industries have been problematic, such as liquor stores and pawn shops.

Some of the proposed changes include:

  • Define micro-breweries, micro-wineries and micro-distilleries and designate the zoning categories where they could locate
  • Allow small-scale craft and artisan manufacturing, such as jewelry-making and woodworking, in commercial districts. “We see that in bigger cities they allow jewelry working, metal working and woodworking but it is relatively small scale, not industrial scale. The impacts are manageable,” Lyons said.
  • Provide better services to workers in medium-industrial zones, such as the warehousing and light-manufacturing district off Drane Field Road, by allowing office-support services and accessory retail.

The retail could include small sandwich shops, rather than full-scale fast-food restaurants, and gyms to work out in after a day on the job, Lyons said.

“Now, people have to get in their car and drive over to Florida Avenue or take I-4 over to County Line Road,” he said.

Another proposal would allow indoor cultivation of non-food crops, including medicinal marijuana and ornamental crops, in fully enclosed buildings in light- and medium-industrial zoning districts

“We could never have foreseen medicinal marijuana 25 years ago,” Lyons said. “We have one going in currently off I-4 and Kathleen Road, where they are doing all the cultivation inside and doing most of growing hydroponically.”

Commissioner Bill Read questioned if retail sales would be allowed at the marijuana growhouses.

Retail marijuana falls under state guidelines and are allowed where pharmacies are allowed, Lyons said, and that would not be in industrial zones.

Plus, Maio said, “Retail marijuana businesses are going to want to be in a location accessible to the public and be highly visible. That is not going to be the situation in a business park or industrial park.”

Barbed wire

Lakeland’s current code does not restrict the use of barbed wire, razor wire and electrified fences outside residential areas, although most cities restrict it to industrial zones and limit use in other zones, Lyons said.

Lyons showed photos of several commercial properties, most of them small-scale car lots surrounded by chain-link fences topped with barbed wire or razor wire.

“Not only is it unattractive but it reinforces the perception this is an unsafe area, not worth investing in, is crime-ridden or in economic decline,” Lyons said.

One photo showed a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire at the intersection of Memorial Boulevard and Massachusetts Avenue. “This is a gateway” to downtown,” Lyons said.

Commissioner Phillip Walker commented that “it gives the impression ‘this is unsafe, stay away.’ ”

Current security fencing in commercial and office zoned areas would be allowed to stay but once the property is sold or the use changes, it would have to go, Lyons said.

“What you are driving them to do is use video surveillance versus using barbed wire,” Mayor Mutz said,.

A business he owned used video surveillance on the lot and it was more effective than security fencing, Mutz said. Video surveillance allows monitors to zoom in on vehicles and faces, he said.

Barbed wire, razor wire and electrified fencing would still be allowed in medium-industrial and heavy industrial zoning, Lyons said.

Downtown changes

Two proposed changes are aimed at making downtown more inviting to pedestrians by presenting a more uniform look.

Lyons showed photos of one-story buildings built years ago that do not blend in with the neighborhood of taller, historic buildings. One example showed a one-story modern-office building constructed in the 1990s on an infill lot next to the historic Polk Theatre on Florida Avenue.

Under the proposed ordinance, new infill buildings and reconstructed buildings could still be one-story high but would have a facade parapet of 24 feet tall facing the street, Lyons said.

“We may not require a two-story building but a property owner can put up a 24-foot-high facade for not a lot of expense,” Lyons said

Commissioner Sara Roberts McCarley commented that the proposed regulation aligns with guidelines from the Historic Preservation Board and the Lakeland Downtown Development Authority. .

Another proposed ordinance changes regulations for windows and tinting on new commercial and office buildings in the downtown and Dixieland areas.

Current regulations require 40 percent glazing for windows and doors on the street-side first floor with the windows stretching from grade to 15 feet high, Lyons said. The tinting can block out up to 90 percent of the light, which is so dark that a pedestrian can barely see inside.

The proposed regulation changes that to windows start at 2 feet off the ground and go to a minimum height of 10 feet off the ground. The tinting could be no more than 70 percent, which provides more visibility for pedestrians and drivers-by.

“While the transmission of light is more restrictive, it could be as opaque as you want above 10 feet or below 2 feet, Maio said. And the new regulations would not impact the tinting on the second floor and higher.

Today’s City Commission begins at 3 p.m. at City Hall, 228 S. Massachusetts Ave.

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