CITY council is holding off on passing a bylaw to increase the fees for street food vendors and to regulate their activities pending further information.
The move came at council’s June 13 meeting in which council members heard arguments for and against the bylaw from restaurant owners and vendors.
The proposed bylaw would increase vendor fees to $250 – $500 per year as well as restrict vendor hours and their proximity to other restaurants.
Farmers market vendors and those who set up for special events are exempt.
Under the current bylaw, passed in 1990, vendors pay between $55 and $80 per year.
Proposed rate increases would see motorized mobile vendors such as The Puckered Pig and Beyond Burgers pay $500 per year, while non-motorized street vendors such as Classic Hot Dogs and Anna’s Kitchen would pay $250.
The proposed bylaw also limits where vendors can operate, with rules regarding adequate space, parking and distance from local restaurants. It suggests Ferry Island, George Little Park, and Fishermen’s Memorial Park along Hwy16 west of the city as ideal locations.
If passed in its current form, the bylaw will also limit vendors to be in one location no more than eight hours, selling food for no longer than four hours.
Mary Martins, owner of The Puckered Pig food truck, told council the proposed fees were too high.
Prince George and Smithers rates are close to $250, and smaller surrounding communities such as Kitimat and Prince Rupert are under $100 per year.
“What makes Terrace so special?” she asked.
She said suggested vendor locations weren’t the best – Ferry Island campers make their own meals and the Fisherman’s Memorial Park location is too limited.
The city should focus more on the people in the community who sell food and services online without paying an business licence or taxes, she said.
But local restaurant owners were in favour of the tighter regulations, saying that they make for equal competition.
Tyson Hull from Mumford’s Beerhouse and Grill, located on Hwy16 west of town, said that in Canada, mobile vending can be a way for businesses to avoid the fees paid by regular businesses to contribute to city services.
“I don’t want to subsidize my competition. I want to work fairly against them. I welcome the competition and I want them to have every opportunity to succeed… it’s about making sure that the playing field is level,” Hull said.
Business tax rates are quite high, he said, and the city needs to encourage stable, year-round businesses and ensure that bylaws spawn equal competition, and not favour seasonal, mobile operations.
“My concern is… how are we going to keep businesses in the existing infrastructure? Or do we want to have everybody out in the summer months operating?”
Lazelle Ave. Hot House/Casa Masala owner Davinder Sangha agreed. Restaurants contribute to city services through taxes and pay for water and sanitation and mobile vendors should contribute as well, Sangha said.
“I’m not against mobile food carts, I think they are doing a good job, but it has to be equitable,” he said.
Pita Pit owner Luke Houlden agreed that fees should ensure equal competition and support long-term business development, but said the issue is bigger.
“To me, a mobile food vendor is someone who sets up on the weekend for events, or hockey tournaments, or at the soccer fields for soccer Sundays,” he said. “It’s not setting up every day in the same place, because that is when you bridge the gap into creating your own commercial space… If you are going to set up your own commercial space, then you should [pay full taxes].”
Houlden said that he supports the farmers market and vendors who come for special events, which is what he believes mobile vending should be.
“To me the $500 is insignificant, it’s that the rules in the bylaw should reflect what the business is intended to do,” he said.
Council members subsequently took a vote, resulting in a 3-3 tie with Mayor Carol Leclerc and councillors Michael Prevost and James Cordeiro in favour and councillors Brian Downie, Sean Bujtas and Lynne Christiansen opposed. It meant the bylaw was defeated as Stacey Tyers was absent.
Then council unanimously decided to postpone further discussion to a committee of the whole meeting and to invite the Terrace and District Chamber of Commerce to give its opinion. It will also consider possible bylaw revisions.
In speaking about the specifics of the proposed bylaw, city development services director David Block said city staffers did extensive research, working through comments from interested parties to achieve a balance.
While mobile vendor rates in surrounding communities are lower, city staff felt they should be higher here to make for more equal competition and support city services.
He said the proposed annual rate for vendors is comparable to one month of taxes paid by local restaurants.
“The intent of a mobile food business is to be mobile,” Block said of the hours of operation as set out in the proposed bylaw.
“To be able to set up for 12 hours in one location would give them an unfair advantage. They don’t have the costs of running a business, paying property tax and providing other services… If they want to [set up in one place for extended periods], then there is a fair argument that they should provide washrooms and parking, and some of those things that a permanent restaurant does have to provide.”