Lox Groves Seeks To Allow Food Trucks After Some Are Shut Down

The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council agreed last week to take steps to allow food trucks to operate in commercial areas of the town after code enforcement issued a violation to a food truck that operated at Red Barn for more than a decade under a county permit.

The item was not on the council’s Aug. 1 agenda, but after several residents and food truck operators spoke, the council agreed to direct staff to develop a plan to allow food trucks on commercial properties.

The council also enacted a zoning-in-progress order to allow food trucks to operate — as long as they are licensed with the health department and have an agreement with the commercial property owner — until the council can approve an ordinance addressing the issue.

Town Manager Bill Underwood said the town is in a quandary resolving permits for food trucks that received violation notices recently because staff cannot issue a permit for a truck that has a violation pending.

Town Attorney Michael Cirullo said the town is getting code cases before the special magistrate where the violation can be remedied by the issuance of a permit, but staff is prohibited from issuing a permit because of the code violation.

“What the town manager is asking is for some language to be crafted that would allow the issuance of a permit when [the applicant] cures the code violation,” Cirullo said.

Councilman Dave DeMarois made a motion to direct staff to come up with language for approval at the council’s next meeting, which carried 4-0 with Councilman Ryan Liang absent.

The council also took steps to address the overall operation of food trucks in town.

Vice Mayor Ron Jarriel said the food trucks are inspected by the health department and have been in operation in Loxahatchee Groves since before incorporation.

“Using Red Barn, for example, the truck has been there for 13 years,” Jarriel said. “Their ignorance was that they did not think they needed a permit. They’ve never been in violation from Palm Beach County. Now that we’re a town, the county told them that we would be the ones that would have to issue a permit to them.”

Jarriel added that the food truck is popular with the Red Barn clientele.

“They’re coming from all over to eat out of that food truck,” he said. “If they have a permit from the town, and they have a health permit and they do that twice a year, I think we ought to allow that, but it’s got to be a contract between the property owner and the food truck.”

Mayor Dave Browning added that the food trucks should operate only on commercial property.

Councilman Todd McLendon made a motion to enact a zoning-in-progress ruling to allow for trucks already operating in town to continue operating, which carried 4-0.

Cirullo suggested that the council have the town’s Planning & Zoning Board get suggestions from residents and operators in order to present a concept to the council for permanent approval.

Several residents and food truck operators spoke in favor of allowing food trucks to continue operation in the town.

Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District Supervisor Simon Fernandez said the council should consider that the town is far west of conventional food services and many Loxahatchee Groves residents are early risers in need of breakfast.

“There’s a lot of people, if you get up early enough in the morning, you can see them up and down Okeechobee out of the trunk of their car without a license, without anything,” Fernandez said, explaining that he believes the vendors should be licensed, permitted and have a contract with the landowner. “I think it will be a lot of help for the town not only in revenue, but also when the horse people come in. A lot of the grooms want places to go eat.”

Santero Ortega, son of Lilian Martinez, the owner of Chela’s Mexican Food, which operates at the Red Barn property, said the truck is part of a family-owned business that operates in several municipalities and complies with the regulations of the Florida Division of Hotels & Restaurants, pays Palm Beach County taxes and has a manager’s certification to serve food.

“Unfortunately, on July 19, we were given a courtesy notice to cease operations because of a formal complaint,” Ortega said. “By the way, this was not from a customer. It was from someone we don’t know.”

He added that they also received a notice of a Uniform Land Development Code violation stating that they are prohibited from operating on the property.

“We have been there for 13 years at the Red Barn property,” Ortega said. “We were given seven days to cease operation. What I would like to ask the council is to please reconsider your position and let us continue being a part of Loxahatchee Groves.”

In other business:

• The council reached a 2-2 stalemate on a regulation that would have added a definition of landscape and irrigation operations to the ULDC.

• The council approved a quit claim deed from the Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District for South D Road from Southern Blvd. to Okeechobee Blvd. and for Collecting Canal Road from A Road to Folsom Road.

• The council extended a moratorium on allowing the establishment of cannabis dispensaries.

• The council approved the first reading of an ordinance prohibiting property owners from allowing vegetation on their property to impact adjacent public roads.

• The council approved the first reading of an ordinance that would allow the special magistrate to consider relief on liens against property owners who have been found in violation of codes.

• The council approved a resolution establishing a drainage and culvert repair and replacement policy.

• The council decided to move ahead on establishing a local business tax.