Council is tweaking its proposed new business licence bylaw, which opens up opportunities for mobile food vendors to set up curbside in the downtown, provided they comply with regulations.
Previously vendors could only operate on private property, but now they can set up on wide enough sections of Lazelle and Park Avenue and other streets downtown, said Terrace director of development services David Block.
“Lazelle Avenue has a concrete sidewalk that is set back about a metre from the curb with a grass strip, so there would be adequate space for someone to pull up on a location on Lazelle Avenue as long as they were maintaining a distance from restaurants and food preparation businesses… I think Park Avenue has wide enough sidewalks on good portions of it… parts of Emerson Street.
“Lakelse would have pretty limited opportunities,” he said, explaining that there are few if any places that have enough space for a vendor between all the access roads and other businesses.
The proposed new bylaw allows vendors to set up in specified parks or on city curbs as long as they leave 1.5-metres of sidewalk space and stay at least 30-metres from other food businesses. They also cannot take up more than 14.6-metres (about two parking spaces).
City council decided that while it won’t change the planned $500 licence fee, it will allow vendors who are on private property to sell food for more hours.
Council agreed that vendors should be allowed to operate on curbs downtown for no more than four hours, considering the limited parking space.
But regulations for vendors on private property within city limits is another issue.
Councillor James Cordeiro said he felt vendors on private property should be free to set up as long as they want. “It’s private property so as long as they conform to the zoning, I don’t think they should have their hours limited,” Cordeiro said.
Councillor Stacey Tyres disagreed. “If you are there all day, every day, then you are no longer a mobile vendor,” she said. “If it’s a productive location and it makes them good money… they should build a restaurant.”
But councillors Sean Bujtas and Brian Downie said the city should not over regulate.
“[Under that rationale, it sounds like] we want to restrict food vendors so that they are not overly competing,” Downie said. “Trying to regulate the use of private land by food trucks… it’s over-regulation. Let the market control how many hours they put in.”
But Tyres noted that all use of private property in the city, no matter who owns it, is regulated based on zoning.
“Could I own a commercial property in the downtown and slap an act trailer there?” she asked, hinting at the ways other property-use is regulated.
Block said the Terrace bylaw has always restricted mobile vendors on private property from staying over night.
“Then they become permanent and then they should have washrooms and should be put on municipal services like sewer and water, and they should be a permanent building where there is regular taxation,” Block said. “It goes back to that they are mobile, and we looked at regulations that would ensure they operate [as such].”
Speaking more generally, councillor Michael Prevost said that regulations are not always negative, as they give businesses clarity about what they can and cannot do.
In an unofficial vote on how to advise staff, councillors Prevost and Tyres voted to restrict vendors to four hours. Councillors Bujtas, Cordeiro and Downie voted to allow more hours.
When staff asked for specific direction for revisions, Cordeiro said they should remove the distinction between preparation time and serving time. The original proposal allowed four hours preparation time and four hours to sell food. Cordeiro suggested allowing vendors a full eight-hour day.
Council also debated the proposed fee increase. Currently vendors pay $55 to $85 per year, and the bylaw proposes annual fees increase to $250 for non-motorized vendors and $500 for motorized.
Downie said fees were too high, especially comparing to similar surrounding communities like Prince George, who charges $214.
“I don’t know why we should be pricing ourselves in a different framework then a place like Prince George,” he said.
Bujtas agreed, saying that no surrounding community has a fee that high. In Smithers, mobile vendors pay $250 annually, and in Kitimat, Prince Rupert and Houston they pay under $100.
“We have to remember that there are communities around us, and if we regulate too hard in this town, then they are just going to do business outside of it,” Bujtas said.
Tyres said she did not feel the fees were too high.
“Even if they operate for only five months, that is only $100 per month,” she said.
She added that vendors contribute to things like garbage, and those fees are now shifting from only residential to be shared with businesses also.
“[Garbage] is one thing no food truck vendor can say they are not contributing to. There is a significant amount of waste from take away food,” Tyres said.
Cordeiro said fees should not be based on other businesses, but agreed the $500 fee is reasonable.
“I don’t see it as our job to protect brick and mortar businesses from their competition or impose fees to level a playing field… the whole point of business is to find competitive vantages,” he said.
Cordeiro said that all businesses operating in the downtown benefit from city services: they rely on local emergency services, require roads to be maintained, and garbage dealt with, and they benefit from beautification efforts.
“Basically any business in the downtown is benefiting from every line item in the city budget, but somebody has to pay for that,” he said. “The way I look at it, it’s (currently) a bit of a tax loop hole… I think $500 is reasonable. If you were to look at all those costs and add it up à la carte, I think you could easily get more than $500,” he said.
Taking an unofficial vote to advise staff, councillors Tyres, Prevost and Cordeiro voted to increase the fee to $500, and councillors Bujtas and Downie opposed the fee increase.
Mayor Carole Leclerc chaired the meeting, but did not speak much during the discussion. She said afterwards she was happy with the decision.
“I think council came to a good decision on what the community wanted,” she said, adding that she trusts the research that city staff did when developing the proposal.
Of the fee, Leclerc said it is a tough decision. “It depends on how you look at it,” she said. “If you look at other jurisdictions, it’s high, but when you look at all the services that may be required… it seemed fair,” she said.
Council’s revisions will be made to the bylaw and presented to council again in July.
The bylaw won’t be adopted until early-August.