Milton softens stance on mobile vendors

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Neil Johnson
Wednesday, August 7, 2013

MILTON—The Milton City Council has backed away from a plan to ban mobile vendors and instead is moving forward with a proposal to permit and regulate the businesses.

The council on a 4-2 vote Tuesday shot down a motion by council members David Adams and Maxine Striegl to approve the first read of a draft ordinance banning mobile vendors on public property and parking areas. 

The council is now considering a proposal that could set up a permit process that would allow a maximum of five mobile businesses a year to operate in the city under certain guidelines, including a possible $500 annual fee and a set of conditions each vendor would have to satisfy.

The idea came from a new proposal city staff handed the council Tuesday after local residents and business leaders voiced concerns that the city was moving too quickly on a plan hatched July 16 to ban mobile vendors outright, Mayor Brett Frazier and City Administrator Jerry Schuetz said Tuesday.

A full ban would have targeted food vendors such as mobile food trucks, ice cream trucks and hot dog, pretzel and snack carts.

The proposal Tuesday would allow those types of mobile vendors to set up in local parking areas between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., provided that there is ample parking available. 

The city recommends one parking stall for every 8 feet of mobile vendor vehicle or equipment, according to the proposal.

Under the new proposal, mobile vendors could be required to:

--Get a permit and pay $500 for an annual license issued from the date of approval to Dec. 31.

--Supply proof of liability insurance, references and health inspection reports if selling food.

--Gain approval by the city’s technical review committee and the city council for proposed parking locations based on available parking, safety and lighting.

Under the proposal, the mobile vendor rules would apply only to “for-profit” businesses, and not “direct seller” vendors or those who sell on private property. The mobile vendor rules also would not apply to farmer’s market vendors, non-profit organizations or for special events such as the Milton Chamber of Commerce’s annual Chicken Bar-B-Que. 

A few council members had cited safety concerns and parking issues as the impetus for an outright ban of mobile vendors on public property. Those officials have worried that vendors could clog up limited parking areas along Parkview Drive in the east side business district and create a potential safety hazard for children in the adjacent Goodrich Park.

Yet, more than one council member in past months has opposed mobile vendors under a rationale that the businesses create unfair competition for brick-and-mortar businesses, which pay property taxes while mobile businesses do not.

The issue of mobile vendors has come up twice. It surfaced last year when the city issued a $25 direct seller’s permit to Delavan-based restaurant Los Agaves so the restaurant could sell Mexican food from a truck and again last month when local business owner Beth Drew submitted plans to the city to sell ice cream from a mobile van.

In both cases, competing business owners complained to the city that the mobile vendors would create unfair competition and undercut property tax-paying businesses.

Milton, like most other area cities, has no defined rules on mobile street vendors. Schuetz said Tuesday he’s been told other municipalities are watching Milton closely to see how it handles the issue.

The council Tuesday allowed a handful of residents to sound off on the merits of a ban or a permit process, although Frazier told residents they would not be allowed to argue about the subject of business competition.

Before the council voted to shoot down a ban on mobile vendors, area resident and local business entrepreneur Rollin “Ole” Natter urged officials to “be tough and say no to something.”

He said there are plenty of open storefronts in Milton’s downtown, yet parking there is at a premium. Having mobile vendors clogging up those parking spots could stop potential investors from renting or buying adjacent vacant properties, Natter said.

Rural Milton resident Tracy Thompson asked the council to be open-minded about businesses that could add to the flavor of Milton.

“I really enjoy eating from mobile food trucks. It would be a great thing for culture,” she said.

Thompson admitted she also has personal aspirations to open a mobile vendor business.

“I’d want to park it in town where I live and get some revenue, too,” she said.

At the request of Milton Chamber of Commerce Director JoLynn Burden and chamber Chairman Mark Warren, the city effectively tabled the issue to discuss particulars of the proposal and to give the business community and residents time to sound off.

Warren said Tuesday the chamber could have some recommendations by next week, but he was not prepared to comment on what he thought about specifics of the proposal, including a $500 fee.

Meanwhile, the city still has no clear rules that allow—or don’t allow—mobile vendors in the city, Schuetz said.

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