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Council willing to limit number of mobile food vendors, but not willing to eliminate all of them
Town of Osoyoos council is not prepared to eliminate mobile street vendors despite the many complaints they have received from established restaurant owners.
However, members of council are prepared to severely limit the number of mobile vendor operations in town in the future and include a provision that they must offer a food alternative that is currently not found in established restaurants.
While no final decision was made during a discussion on mobile vendor policy options during Monday’s meeting of the committee of the whole, councillors indicated they are prepared to eliminate “fly by night” mobile vendors who set up shop for a few days or weeks with the permission of a property owner and then leave town.
Council, however, does not appear willing to eliminate stationary vendors in approved parks like the current OsoJus concession, which offers health drinks and wraps out of a small bus located on Pioneer Walkway.
Councillors also aren’t against mobile street vendors like the Rolling Cones ice cream bus that has been in operation this summer in Osoyoos.
Council approved a bylaw in the summer of 2009 allowing mobile vendors.
After four years, vendor policies need revising, especially after so many longtime business owners launched complaints as part of a recent downtown business survey, said Alain Cunningham, the town’s director of planning and development services.
The current process for managing mobile vendors is “quite ad hoc” with applicants coming to the town office at different and often multiple times with applications or inquiries, he said.
“The excessive demands this all places on staff time are especially dysfunctional given the few vendors that actually end up operating any one year in Osoyoos,” he said. “If we are going to continue at all with a street vendor program, a new approach is required to create more certainty for the vendors themselves and to save time for all concerned.”
Staff has proposed all applicants for consideration would have to be received by the end of February each year, with staff recommending a short list of vendors to council by the middle of March. All successful applicants would have to complete final documentation including a health permit, license fees, safety authorization and rental fees where applicable by the middle of April.
Coun. Sue McKortoff said she has no problem with enforcing stricter guidelines, but she’s not in favour of banning mobile vendors, especially those that offer unique and healthy food choices for customers.
“I think we need to make sure there aren’t too many, but I think they’re a great addition to our town and I quite like them,” she said.
Mayor Stu Wells said he also likes mobile food vendors that offer unique food choices, but he’s not in favour of allowing those that offer regular food fare like hot dogs and hamburgers across the street from an established restaurant.
Coun. Mike Plante said his biggest problem with mobile vendors are those who do business for only a few weeks and then leave.
“I think they should make a commitment to our community or you are out,” he said.
Coun. C.J. Rhodes said while he has great respect for local restaurant owners, he doesn’t understand why Osoyoos is the only community he knows of where mobile street vendors are seen as a negative and not a positive.
“I like to look at what other communities and what they are doing,” he said. “All across North America, these (mobile) businesses have become so successful it almost defies description. It’s incredible how it has taken off.”
Cities like Edmonton and Penticton haven’t received any complaints about mobile vendors and established restaurant owners actually encourage them as they draw people to their community, he said.
“In most cases, they offer food that is not offered anywhere else,” he said. “Eating is an experience and the more options you have, the better the experience.
“I don’t like to have the negative attitude we’ve had from our restaurant owners in town, but everywhere else there haven’t been any complaints.”
Council is expected to pass an amended bylaw pertaining to mobile food vendors within the next month or so.