By Michael P. McConnell | DailyTribune.com
FERNDALE – A new ordinance is in the works to turn down the heat on a simmering disagreement between downtown Ferndale restaurants owners and food truck operators.
City Council members are again taking up the issue Monday after a number of downtown business owners objected to a food vendor ordinance officials were set to enact last month.
Food trucks with specialty and ethnic menus are an increasingly popular trend in cities throughout the nation and southeast Michigan. The Michigan Mobile Food Vendors Association in the past couple of months has organized monthly events in Royal Oak and Ferndale with multiple trucks. Individual food trucks wheel into downtowns throughout the region on week days and weekends, depending on local ordinances.
In Ferndale, officials have reviewed how other cities from Ann Arbor to Seattle are dealing with food trucks — which are like restaurant kitchens on wheels — to come up with a policy.
“There was some pushback from our restaurant owners,” Mayor Dave Coulter said. “They have some legitimate concerns about how food truck operators and pushcart vendors will impact their bricks-and-mortar businesses.”
Restaurant owners wanted more involvement in how the final vendor ordinance in Ferndale is drafted, Coulter added.
“On the other hand, the food vendors want any new rules to be flexible enough for them to make a profit,” he said.
Food truck vendors using Facebook and Twitter to announce their upcoming locations have had more serious problems in big cities like Chicago and New York – where the potential customer base is huge in a single location and police are vigilant about issuing expensive parking tickets.
Food truck and pushcart vendors started showing up in Ferndale last year, trying out different locations at different times in a quest to attract customers. That approach proved to be unwieldy for traditional restaurant owners, who complained the vendors were siphoning customers from their permanently placed businesses.
Restaurant owners contend they are tax-paying members of the community and deserve to be heard on the issue. Others have said pushcart vendors shouldn’t be allowed to stroll along the sidewalks at will, sometimes stopping to serve hot dogs or other food in front of existing eateries.
“We have always realized that (mobile food vendors) add life and vitality to the downtown,” said Cristina Sheppard-Decius, Ferndale’s downtown development authority’s executive director. “But we have to be cautious about how much of this activity we allow and consider the impact on our businesses.”
City officials on Monday will review recommendations from the Ferndale DDA on food vendor licensing, along with limits on the times and places vendors can operate.
Suggested guidelines include limiting food truck vendors to one day in the downtown in a section of the City Hall parking lot, from 8 a.m. Tuesdays to 3 a.m. the next day. Food trucks could also operate from 12 a.m. to 3 a.m. on other days in designated loading zones if approved by the police chief.
License fees for food trucks would cost $550, along with a $100 application fee and a $50 renewal fee.
Pushcart vendors could operate in the downtown only from 8 a.m. Thursday to 3 a.m. the next day. The vendors would be confined to the pedestrian alley on West Nine Mile between Woodward and Allen. Pushcart operators would pay $250 license fee, and the same application and renewal fees as food truck vendors.
“The other cities and states we looked at are all having issues with this,” Sheppard-Decius said. “The impact of food vendors could potentially be good or bad, depending on how a community’s ordinance is written.”