MARIETTA - The issue of allowing mobile food vendors to operate on city property in Marietta was back on the agenda during Thursday's meeting of city council's planning, zoning, annexation and housing committee.
Legislation governing vendors of products like shaved ice, ice cream and sandwiches sold from trucks or vans was prepared for council approval in September. But action on the proposed ordinance was set aside due to potential changes in the Ohio Revised Code that could impact the city legislation.
Committee chairman Roger Kalter, D-1st Ward, said Thursday he would like to have legislation in place by January, but no later than April 2013 when the weather warms enough for mobile vendors to begin their seasonal business.
"It's embarrassing; we've been working on this since March, and I'm hoping by the time good weather comes we'll have something in place so people can have a sno-cone, ice cream, or even a hotdog," Kalter said following Thursday's session.
The sale of ice cream and other treats from vehicles traveling through Marietta neighborhoods became an issue earlier this year when a local vendor asked council members for permission to sell shaved ice cones from her van.
Elisha Tornes, owner of Penguin ParadIce, which sells Sno Biz shaved ice, said she had obtained county and state permits to sell the flavored ice, but was stopped from doing business on city streets earlier this year by Marietta police who told her it was illegal within the city limits unless she was selling on private property.
City code prohibits food vending on city-owned properties without special permission from council.
Councilman Tom Vukovic, D-4th Ward, has voiced opposition to vendors like Tornes selling on city neighborhood streets because he believes it puts children at risk of injury if they run into the street to meet the vendors.
On Thursday Vukovic said local existing food businesses could also suffer if mobile vendors are allowed.
"This is not Cincinnati or Columbus," he said. "We have businesses in our historic district that are struggling, and you're looking to fill that area with vendors who, I believe, will take business away from the district."
But Kalter said Marietta should be a welcoming community for vendors, without creating a lot of competition for local restaurants and other food businesses already located in brick and mortar buildings within the city.
"I think we could do this in a limited, controlled way and allow a few food vendors on city property to see how they do for about a year," he said. "And we don't want to hurt our existing businesses either."
Vukovic disagreed with the idea of temporarily allowing the food vendors to set up shop in the city.
"Once the camel's nose is under the tent, you won't be able to stop it," he said.
Councilman Denver Abicht, D-at large, said the majority of constituents want council to pass a law allowing the mobile food vendors to operate on city property.
Kalter has recommended allowing the food vendors to operate only in certain areas of the city like city parks where there are no concessions currently sold and there would be no competition with other businesses.
City law director Paul Bertram III believes legislation could be worked out so that mobile food vendors would be allowed, but noted parameters would have to be established, including the permitted hours of operation and where the vendors could operate within the city.
Vukovic noted the city code does not allow food vending of any kind on city property, including at parks and ball fields. He said that's one reason recreation leagues do not operate concessions during softball and baseball games.
"The ball leagues might want to establish concession stands at the fields in Indian Acres Park or at Buckeye Park as a source of revenue to help with league operating expenses," he said.
Vukovic said if legislation is passed allowing food vending, it should give the not-for-profit athletic leagues the first opportunity to sell concessions in the parks.
Kalter said all of his fellow council members, except Vukovic, have basically agreed mobile food vendors should be allowed to operate on city property, and he hopes enabling legislation will be passed so vendors like Tornes can sell their products next summer in Marietta.