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City Council takes a pass on vendor ordinance

November 6, 2013
Lehigh Acres Citizen

Those who think the City Council doesn't listen to the concerns of the people weren't at the regular council meeting Monday at City Hall.

The numerous food vendors who came to the packed meeting to protest a proposed ordinance to regulate them made enough of an impression on the board that it decided to kill the motion indefinitely so it can get together with stakeholders to come up with an agreement everyone can live with.

Councilmember John Carioscia, who sponsored the ordinance, withdrew his sponsorship and agreed that the two sides need to get together to make it less onerous on existing food vendors and more friendly to local businesspeople without it infringing on the brick and mortar businesses.

Code Enforcement Director Frank Cassidy said the main idea of the ordinance was to see food vendors as a viable business venture, but the city also wanted to find a balance so the vendors and established places can coexist.

Attorney Ralph Brooks said he had a problem with the fact the ordinance was never put before the Planning and Zoning Commission because it was, he said, a land development issue, and that the ordinance was onerous on business owners.

"This will destroy family businesses. Under the guise of regulation you are prohibiting it," Brooks said. "Many of the provisions lack rational basis."

The food vendors who attended the meeting, while agreeing there should be some rules to prevent fly-by-night vendors from coming in, said the permitting alone could force them out of business.

"It would be devastating to us," said John Wolske, owner of Hoboz Fine Dining. "I'm partly disabled. If I don't have a stand, I'm in trouble."

Wolske said their businesses help the businesses they sell near, saying the car wash he has moved to has seen more traffic.

Wolske, along with several other vendors, said their establishments were at least as clean, if not more so, than established restaurants and that they take cleanliness seriously.

"The city has found a remedy to a problem that doesn't exist. The city will always find a way to regulate things and this city isn't business friendly," said Bill Deile. "The city doesn't know more about food vending than those who do it."

The most impassioned plea came from Charlie Myers, who said mobile vendors is at the heart of what America was built on. Now, it's all gone.

"We shouldn't be like Fort Myers or Bonita Springs. We need to be more progressive than that," Myers said. "Remember lemonade stands? Eighty percent of cities don't allow them anymore."

Myers added the ordinance shouldn't apply to industrial areas since they can be a prime place of business for mobile vendors.

The parade of protestors was enough to sway the council to use prudence before making the decision, which will now be made by a new council after stakeholders and the city get together and have their say.

Councilmember Kevin McGrail said the viability of food vendors has become obvious, especially in recent years, as events nationwide devoted to food trucks has shown.

"They had a food vendor round-up at the Rose Bowl that drew 50,000 people. In many communities, these mobile units are becoming more of a staple to the community," McGrail said. "These people have loyal customers and they were very upset when they heard they may lose their cheesesteak guy."

McGrail added that for a city with 160,000 people and 122 square miles, allowing only 15 permits didn't seem balanced.

Wolske was pleased with the result, but said it really wasn't necessary to go through that.

"We need ordinances. But we already have ordinances. It's redundant," Wolske said. "I know you want curb appeal. What do you want me to do? I already do that."

Among the items in the ordinance was a limit to 500 feet within an existing structure, with a limit of 15 permits given out at $600 each every six months. Those permits would be considered abandoned if the vendors did not sell food for a two-week period, and those vendors could only sell food three days a week.

Cassidy said the permit fees were to cover the inspection costs associated.

 
 

 

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