Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat

The county's Community Resources Agency is gathering feedback from the public and local planning organizations on changes to the zoning ordinance that would apply to "cottage food" businesses and lunch truck operators, among other operations.

The new regulations have been drafted due to changes in the state law and increases in local demand, according to the agency. The ordinance changes are being considered by the local area planning commissions and will eventually require approval by the county Board of Supervisors.

"Cottage food operations" - typically home-based businesses with food prepared in non-commercial kitchens - have been a focus of government health and land-planning agencies around California since a Jan. 1 state law made it easier for home cooks to prepare some baked goods, non-dairy and non-meat items in private kitchens for sale. The law previously required such operations to comply with the same health codes as every other food business, including the use of a commercial kitchen.

Under the county's proposal, cottage food operations outside of thecity of Sonora would be allowed without a special zoning permit in any residential property. According to Mike Laird, Community Resource Agency deputy director, the county also had options to require permits and restrictions on traffic, noise or other standards.

County planners "decided to take the easy road for a resident" who wants to run a cottage food operation, Laird said.

The restrictions are tighter in the city of Sonora, which requires cottage-food operations to obtain a business license and $50 cottage food operations permit from the city. The rules in the city also restrict how close those operations can be to one another and regulate parking attached to those home businesses.

Mobile food units like food carts and vans are also getting a look from county planners. Laird said the county's zoning ordinance does not have a definition for mobile vendors, and an increase in those operations has the attention of the CRA.

The ordinance would define a mobile food vendor as a vehicle like a van, truck, trailer or pushcart from which food or beverages are sold. This would not include catering companies or stationary outdoor food vendors, like food trucks that stay in the same location.

Under the rules, mobile vendors could operate in all zoning districts except open space so long as they comply with state retail food laws, secure permits from the health department and stay at one location no longer than two hours. That rule would be different in the event of a flea market, fair or festival, where the mobile food vendor could stay for the entire event.

"We're starting to see a lot more of it," Laird said.

The food vendor rules are among changes to the zoning ordinance that also include rules related to live music events, entertainment and alcohol sales near residential properties, timber harvesting in some areas and public usage on easements.