by Dennis Dalman
Food-vending vehicles will now be allowed to do business in Sartell – with certain restrictions.
The Sartell City Council at its June 9 meeting voted to approve a mobile food-vending ordinance that allows such vehicles to sell foods that are prepared inside the vehicles. Previously, the city has always allowed mobile food vendors to sell pre-packaged foods in the city, such as ice-cream vending trucks, but not food prepared on the spot.
Examples of vending trucks with food prepared within them are trucks that would sell pizza, tacos, sandwiches and various finger foods. Typically, such trucks park in the parking lots of companies, with company permission, so workers can grab a bit to eat during lunch breaks.
The vote for the ordinance was 4-0. Council member Amy Braig-Lindstrom was not at the meeting.
Sartell Planner and Developer Anita Rasmussen outlined the restrictions for mobile food vendors. They would have to obtain from the city a permit to operate and would have to get permission from property owners if they park on private property. They can park on streets only where parking is now permitted and must park 50 feet or more from intersections so as not to interfere with motorists’ and pedestrians’ views of those intersections.
There are also restrictions that signage can be only on the vending truck itself, not outside and freestanding by the vehicle. Sound, such as bells or whistles, won’t be permitted.
Council member Sarah Jane Nicoll asked Rasmussen about the music played by ice-cream vendor trucks. Rasmussen said the city occasionally received complaints about such music but the ordinance is hard to enforce because when the vehicles stop for business, the music stops too. She said staff hopes to get more compliance with sound restrictions through education.
The council members had many questions about competition with other food vendors and restaurants. There is a provision in the ordinance that would require the vending trucks to park at least 50 feet away from food businesses in the city. Rasmussen said city staff consulted the Sartell Area Chamber of Commerce before writing the ordinance. Responses ranged from the vendors should be allowed to park anywhere because of the free-market, free-enterprise concept to unfair competition with food businesses who pay city taxes. Other cities, Rasmussen said, have parking restrictions near businesses from none up to 500 feet.
Council member Nicoll said she is opposed to the 50-foot parking restriction near businesses. They are really no different from other businesses that compete with one another, she noted.
During the council discussion, which was a public hearing, a man in the audience – a Sartell resident – said he is opposed to the parking restriction near food businesses. That, he said, is like telling prospective restaurants they cannot build next to other restaurants.
Council members other than Nicoll said they have no problems with the 50-foot restriction and that it seems reasonable.
Mayor Joe Perske said he is concerned such food vendors could interfere with the concession stand at Pinecone Central Park. Proceeds from those concession sales generate revenue to help operate the park through the Pinecone Central Park Association. Perske said he also has a problem with trucks competing with other food vendors of non-profit agencies during city festivals, such as SummerFest.
Nicoll, again, said mobile food vendors are no different than other food establishments and they would provide just one more welcome option for festival-goers.
Rasmussen said any mobile food vendors would have to get permission to operate in the parking lot of Pinecone Central Park and that permission would probably not be granted in that case. In addition, festival organizers would have to give permission for such vendors to operate on festival grounds.
Rasmussen noted both the city planning commission and the Sartell Economic Development Commission recommended approval of the ordinance.