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Milton OKs mobile food vendors

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Neil Johnson
June 17, 2014

Milton is now a mobile food vendor town, but not without opposition from one city council member and other members' claims of complaints from local restaurant owners.

The council on Tuesday approved regulations allowing mobile food trucks and carts to apply for city permits in city-owned parking areas, including city parks.

The council approved the plan, 5-1. Council member David Adams cast the lone “no” vote.

Adams said he's heard from a number of local business owners who told him they don't want mobile food vendors clogging up public parking.

Adams attacked the ordinance, saying it would be inexpensive and easy for mobile food vendors to gain an advantage on brick-and-mortar restaurants that pay property taxes and have higher overhead costs.

He said the rules give one type of business “preferential” treatment.

“Any business in town should operate on the same playground,” he said. “To provide low cost sets of rules and options for some businesses and not others is not doing that.”

Under the new rules, mobile food vendors would have to get parking and vending plans reviewed and approved by city staff, and also pay $500 for a full-year license or $300 for six months.

Fresh produce vendors, charitable organizations, direct sellers and sellers at special events would be exempt from mobile vendor rules and fees.

Adams and former council member Maxine Striegel said they'd heard from businesses who say they stand to lose customers who can't find parking if mobile vendors occupy spots.

Both pointed to Georgio's, an Italian food and pizza restaurant on Parkview Drive that they said already is having trouble with scant parking.

Some nights, it gets so busy at nearby Goodrich Park that Georgio's customers have to park blocks away, they said.

“Right now, when you've got a softball game and the splash park open, nobody can get anywhere near the store,” Adams said.

No local business owners or potential mobile vendors spoke Tuesday.

Council member Anissa Welch wondered how many mobile food vendors had inquired about permits this year.

City Administrator Jerry Schuetz said so far one vendor—a shaved ice truck operator—has contacted the city. Schuetz said that in the past year he's received “fewer than five phone calls” about the mobile vendor issue, including those from people who oppose food trucks and carts.

City council member Theresa Rusch urged the council not to allow an existing parking problem like the one on Parkview Drive to “hamper” a decision on mobile food vendors. She said the council could always revisit its rules later and “add parameters to licenses” if problems arise.

Rusch said the city owes it to itself to be open and welcoming to businesses, particularly with a highway bypass that has slowed commerce on the city's east side.

“We're looking at setting a very negative tone if we say, 'No, no. We can't have this,” Rusch said.

Welch argued against Adams' idea that mobile vendors will bring unfair competition.

“You wouldn't bar an Internet company from providing service because they don't have a building in Milton,” she said. “I guess a free market economy just isn't always going to be fair. You'll have competition. You can't regulate that.”

The new rules would bar mobile food vendors from selling hot, prepared food in residential parts of town, Schuetz said. Also, vendors using Milton School District-owned parking lots and private lots would need permission from the district or from private owners to sell there. 

Schuetz said ice cream and confectionery vendors would be allowed to sell door-to-door in residential areas using the city's existing direct-seller permit process. However, vendors wouldn't be allowed to park in residential areas for long periods of time, he said.



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