The Crystal River City Council voted against a city zoning change that would have allowed applicants to create outdoor food courts with food trucks and other amenities such as picnic tables, pavilions, parking and restrooms.
Councilmen Pat Fitzpatrick, Robert Holmes, and Ken Brown voted against the proposed zoning changes, saying they were contacted by city residents and businesses, many objecting to the outdoor food courts.
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“This is not really (about) what I think,” he told the audience, but rather what city resident and businesses think. “That’s more important than what I think.”
Brown said residents opposed the proposal.
Brown’s concerns mirrored that of the two other councilmen voting against the zoning change.
“It’s not an even playing field,” Brown said, citing that brick-and-mortar restaurant owners invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in their restaurants, while mobile food courts invest a fraction of that.
He said food courts would hurt local businesses and potentially scare off future restaurants that might want to open in the city.
The zoning change would have dictated how mobile food courts could be designed and include such parameters as buffers from properties, minimum lot sizes, building heights, driveway sizes, setbacks and the maximum number of trucks.
Those supporting a change in zoning to allow for the food courts, Councilwoman Cindi Guy and Mayor Joe Meek, said the trucks would not take business away from local restaurants but bring more visitors to the city.
But amid the debate as to whether the food courts would compete with local businesses, Councilwoman Cindi Guy said, “It’s not my job as a council member to limit competition.”
The food court would have included five truck vendors, parking, an outdoor pavilion, picnic tables and restrooms and one employee dedicated to the site.
While Ensing conceded that restaurants cost more to build than a food court and may generate more taxes for the city, he said the council’s decision shouldn’t be based on revenue for the city.
And if his proposed food court business failed, “you’re going to have a city park,” Ensing said of the proposed location.
But a few local residents who opposed Ensing’s plan said that the business was not consistent with historical Crystal River and that the food trucks would be an eyesore. In addition, customers would create traffic and parking problems in their neighborhoods, they said.
Jeff Countryman, owner of JC Wine and Koffee Bar on North Citrus Avenue, said his business already offers outdoor seating … and other businesses do too.
Holmes said that, like Brown, he’s received emails and telephone calls from residents, and he’s going to follow the advice of his constituents and vote against it.
“We have to do what they (the city residents) want us to do,” Fitzpatrick said.
“I’m not for it. I’m not against it. You can string me up outside,” he said. “(But) if I had to vote today, I wouldn’t vote for it.”
As a councilman with no conflicts of interest about the issue, Fitzpatrick was required to vote and voted against the new zoning to allow mobile food courts.
The vote opposing the change was 3-2.