By Duke Behnke | Post Crescent
NEENAH — Mobile food vendors operating on streets and sidewalks now have to stay 500 feet away from events like Communityfest and the downtown Neenah farmers market, under a new ordinance.
They also must pay a $250 annual licensing fee.
The law applies to food vending carts like Smoken Pig Express and to food vending trucks like Kangaroostaurant. It also covers the popular ice cream truck that’s been traveling through Neenah neighborhoods for decades.
City staff had recommended ice cream trucks be exempt from the ordinance, but the Public Services and Safety Committee disagreed.
“I think we lose a little bit of credibility if we try to target certain kinds of mobile vendors,” Alderman Todd Stevenson said.
The Common Council approved the ordinance last week. It prevents food carts from selling in front of brick-and-mortar restaurants, and in the central business district it restricts food trucks to seven specific locations.
Before the ordinance, Neenah hadn’t regulated mobile food vendors. They were able to operate anywhere in the city by obtaining a license for food sales and a permit for a solicitor, peddler or transient merchant.
The arrival of mobile food vendors in the central business district has drawn concerns from downtown restaurant operators, who argue the mobile food vendors are siphoning off business without paying property taxes or the special assessments to pay for the downtown Business Improvement District.
Chris Haese, director of community development, said mobile vendors can add interest and ambiance to a community, “But if you overdo it, and we start to see storefronts go empty, then we’ve got a real problem.”
Richard Linskens, owner of Smoken Pig Express, brings his food cart to the southeast corner of Wisconsin Avenue and Commercial Street on weekdays. He’s not opposed to the ordinance — other than the $250 license fee. He said the fee could force him to move his business to Menasha, which doesn’t charge a fee.
“I don’t know,” Linskens said. “Time will tell.”
• Only six trucks and three carts will be licensed to operate in the central business district during a year. There will be no limit in the balance of the city.
• Mobile vendors will pay a $250 license fee.
John Skyrms, a downtown property owner and a member of the Business Improvement District Board, said the ordinance provides a balance between competing interests.
“No one is going to be thrilled with this,” Skyrms said. “From one side to the other, mobile vendors want this, and restaurant owners want this. I think this is an excellent compromise.”