Janesville, Milton to consider new food truck rules

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Neil Johnson
Sunday, June 1, 2014

JANESVILLE--If the selection of food trucks in Janesville doesn't suit your mood on a given day, you could always try the vendors in downtown Milton.

That could be one game plan if the Janesville and Milton city councils both approve proposals that would allow mobile food vendors in their communities.

Both city councils this month will hear proposals from their respective city staff on new licensing rules and regulations that would allow and regulate food vendors.

Janesville is overhauling a set of existing city ordinances, and Milton is crafting all new rules because the city has no ordinance that applies to mobile vendors, officials say.

Both communities would charge an initial licensing fee of $500 for food trucks. Janesville's rules would set a framework for how food vendors could operate in business, industrial and residential areas.

Under its proposal, Milton would limit vendors to operating mainly in public parking lots. Parking lot sites would face review and approval by city staff.

Janesville now has one active food truck, South Padre Seafood, which has operated since late last year in a private parking lot off West Court Street.

The owner, Chad Measner, moved his truck to the private lot after city officials told him ordinances don't allow food vendors to operate in public lots. Measner asked the city late last year to consider expanding its rules in a way that allowed him and other food trucks to operate on public property.

Janesville city staff held a listening session in March to get feedback on whether the public wanted food trucks in Janesville.

At a May public hearing in front of the plan commission, staff unveiled a proposal based in part on public feedback. The plan commission forwarded a recommendation for staff to rework the draft ordinance with a few changes.

That proposal is headed back to the plan commission for final review Monday. A set of ordinance and code changes would then face another public hearing and a potential vote by the city council June 9, said Gale Price, manager of band development services.

Janesville mobile vendors

Under a staff proposal, Janesville would allow food trucks and mobile vendors to use city-approved public lots or pull off traffic lanes alongside streets to serve customers on sidewalks.

Vendors would be allowed to operate in residential, commercial and industrial areas under certain guidelines. They'd have to remain stationary while selling.

Under the proposal, mobile vendors would be required to:

-- Have liability insurance and valid state and Rock County Health Department permits to handle and serve food from a vehicle or prepare food at a commissary offsite.

-- Pay an initial $500 licensing fee and a $250 annual renewal for food trucks. Food carts would pay a $100 annual fee.

-- Operate between 8 a.m. and dusk in residential areas and 9 p.m. in commercial areas. Vendors could operate until 3 a.m. in B-5 and B-6 business zones, most of which are located downtown. In residential or office areas, food trucks could only sell frozen, packaged confectionaries, shaved ice or bottled soda and water.

-- Keep a 200-foot buffer between food trucks and existing, licensed restaurants unless restaurant owners give a vendor written permission to park closer, Price said. Food carts wouldn't be allowed to block pedestrians' path on sidewalks.

-- Limit parking for food trucks and carts to one hour at a time in residential or office areas. That would prevent “somebody from perpetually staying in one location and becoming a nuisance,” Price said.

-- Not park within 100 feet of a parade route or a block where a community event such as the downtown Janesville Farmers Market is being held. Price said the city would give vendors a list of restricted community events.

Also, vendors would need permission from the city's recreation director to operate in parks. They'd need permission from private owners or leaseholders to park in private lots or areas considered leased public space.

Price said an ice cream shop owner at the May public hearing was concerned a 200-foot buffer for food trucks is not enough distance. Price said there are “plenty of space and options” in most areas of downtown Janesville for mobile vendors to operate within the buffer.  

The city earlier had proposed a cap of 15 food trucks and 25 cart licenses a year, which some on the plan commission opposed. A proposed ordinance excludes caps.

Milton mobile vendors

Milton has no rules on the books for mobile vendors, which means food trucks are not regulated in the city, but they're not prohibited either.   

The city first grappled with the issue in 2012, when Delavan-based Mexican food restaurant Los Agaves began selling food from a truck in Merchant Row on the west side.

At the time, operators at a tavern complained the food truck interfered with the tavern's own taco night, officials said. The truck agreed to move to a parking lot on the east side, where there were fewer taverns and restaurants. 

At the time, city staff had granted Los Agaves a license under Milton's direct-seller ordinance, which staff later acknowledged doesn't apply cleanly to food trucks.

The Los Agaves truck has since moved on to Fort Atkinson.

The council in 2012 and 2013 discussed whether to create rules to regulate food trucks or ban them.

Some council members were worried food trucks would clog limited parking or cause safety hazards. Others argued food trucks had an unfair advantage over brick-and-mortar restaurants because vendors can move from spot to spot and have lower overhead costs.

In 2013, the council shot down a proposed ban on food trucks. The city's personnel and finance committee later in the year discussed potential mobile vendor rules but made no recommendations.

City Administrator Jerry Schuetz said that in May, shaved, flavored ice company Kona Ice asked if it could operate as a mobile vendor in Milton.

“As you look at trends nationwide, there is a movement and a growing popularity for these types of vendors,” Schuetz said. “Here, the issue is not going away.”  

Staff brought proposed rules and a permit process for mobile vendors to the city's personnel and finance committee in May. The committee recommended the proposal after discussing other potential choices, including creating no rules or banning food vendors.

The city council will consider a draft ordinance of the new rules Tuesday.

Under the ordinance, Schuetz said, Milton wouldn't cap the number of food vendors it would allow. But vendors could only sell out of public areas with ample parking for other people.

In Milton, food vendor permit applications would require vendors to show the parking lots and portion of the lots they planned to sell from, along with a “site layout” showing adjacent parking and lighting in the lot, Schuetz said.

The rules and oversight “would make sure somebody couldn't pull up illegitimately and pose a public safety risk” by parking in areas where there is heavy traffic or not enough parking, Schuetz said.

A panel of city staff would review each application and decide whether to grant a permit and license.

The rules would apply to food trucks, carts and stands that prepare and sell hot food or cold, prepackaged items, Schuetz said. 

Under the city's zoning code, vendors could get permission from private owners to sell out of private lots, Schuetz said. 

Under the proposal, mobile vendors would be required to:

-- Have liability insurance and state and Rock County permits to serve and handle food from a vehicle, cart or stand.

-- Operate between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.

-- Pay a $500 annual license fee or a $300 six-month fee. The licenses would not be required for nonprofit groups or at nonprofit events that run fewer than 72 hours.

Schuetz said the Milton Area Chamber of Commerce had asked the city to lower proposed fees to $150, but he said staff plans to stick with its original recommendation.

Schuetz said he sees a $500 fee as reasonable and similar to a lease of public space.

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