The City Council decided against approving a new ordinance concerning pushcart vendors downtown.
The Council directed staff Dec. 14 to address some language clarity issues. A new public hearing may be scheduled in the future.
The city has been discussing the issue for several months and the document for the past three as the city does not have any language regulating pushcart vendors. The city approved a single vendor to sell food from a cart downtown, but the vendor never showed up.
The Pushcart Vending Ordinance & Policy’s name was updated due to the prohibition on food trucks, city documents state. The ordinance has been drafted to specifically regulate pushcarts that sell food. The selling of non-food items is prohibited.
According to the proposed policy, only one license will be issued per year.
City Attorney Steve Estey stated the availability of only one license could create a monopoly on the license if the vendor consistently renewed it for one year.
If council wanted to allow for more than one license in the future, it will not require a review of the entire ordinance, just an update to the policy, City Manager Courtney Nichols stated in a memo to council.
This could be triggered by a complaint or if council saw the need to expand the licenses, Nicholls said.
The policy does not cover ice cream trucks as those vehicles do not stop anywhere for any length of time. Food trucks are prohibited downtown because they do stay in one place all day. The only exception is for the Farmers Market and Dexter Daze.
New Council member Zach Michels liked the idea of having pushcart vendors downtown. In Ann Arbor a company called Mark’s Carts uses them as incubators, he said.
“People get to test out their concepts at a relatively low cost and they find how to make the thing work and graduate into a full restaurant,” Michels said. “At least four or five have gone that route.”
Endorsing such a policy could cut into sales of existing restaurants, but it could also create new ones, he said.
“My thought is did we want to include that in the objective section,” Michels said. “To provide for that sort of incubator.”
There was some discussion about mobile vending units (including food trucks) being exempt from licensing requirements for pushcarts.
When Mayor Shawn Keough suggested changing the policy back to include mobile vending units, Nicholls said as it stands now, the city has no licensing requirements for the mobile vending units to be exempt from.
The pushcarts cannot use unattached cooking facilities.
Resident Ted Tear citing more than 25 years in the restaurant business, criticized the council for discussing and voting on an issue they knew nothing about.
The idea that a person with a pushcart would open a full restaurant was unlikely, he said.
A pushcart requires a small investment, whereas a food truck would require at least $100,000, Tear said.
“There’s no way in the world a guy with a pushcart is ever going to open a restaurant,” Tear said. “You open a restaurant it’s going to cost a few hundred thousand dollars.
“If a guy’s got a food cart where is he going to get the few hundred thousand dollars? Banks won’t lend money on anything unless you got a big big deposit.”
Tear did not understand how the city could discriminate against one vendor if it had already approved one. He also complained about restriction placed on ice cream trucks and asked why one couldn’t park down by the park.
While Tear believed the issue arose due to his inquiries about a food truck, Keough said that was not the case.
Tear recommended the city contact the national and state restaurant organizations and get their input as well as talking with other towns who have food carts.
Keough reiterated the city is regulating all vehicles, it just banning food trucks and licensing pushcarts.
Michels said while he was unafraid of food trucks or people selling non-food items, he understood that as this is the city’s first “dip into the pool,” and why the ordinance has to be so tight.
“We don’t want to jump in the deep end, we want to sticks our toes in the water and see how it goes before we open it all the way up,” Michels said. “So we do have the opportunity to revise this in the future as we get more experience.”
Aniol suggested instead of an outright ban of food trucks, the city could provide a list of times they would be permitted.
“My understanding you would allow it for special events only,” Aniol said.
The Council will take up the matter Dec. 28.