By Keith Lacey | Osoyoos Times
In order to try and eliminate street food vendors who come to town for a couple of months and then leave, Town of Osoyoos council will soon finalize a new street food vendor selection and approval process.
Some of the key elements of the new policy, which is expected to be adopted at the first meeting of council in February, would be having approved vendors sign a five-year contract that would encourage them to make investments in equipment, while allowing them the comfort of knowing they don’t have to renew their business license every year, said Alain Cunningham, director of planning and development services during a presentation to council’s committee of the whole on Monday.
Several members of council also agreed that the selection process, where the street food vendors can operate from and what kind of food they will serve would best be done by staff, rather than members of council. Council would only get involved in approving business licenses and approving where the businesses can operate on town land, with staff making all other decisions.
“Our current dealings with street food vendors are very ad hoc with prospective vendors coming to our office on multiple occasions with new enquiries or information and not infrequently changing their plans mid-stream or closing up their business in Osoyoos after opening for awhile,” said Cunningham. “All this places heavy work demands on staff for what in the end is a small number of quality vendors who actually open and stay open for business, and which fails to realize the full potential for serving the Osoyoos market.
“A new focused approach is needed to competitively attract and select quality food vendors who can commit long-term to serve the resident and tourist market in Osoyoos with good service and attractive equipment.”
Staff have recommended to council a quota system to set maximum competitive quotas for food vending sites in each of the following categories
• Stationary Park Vendor – Beach Bum Lunch Box closed after one year at Gyro Park in 2012. OsoJust opened in 2013 and will probably want to renew. It’s noted that the town’s business license bylaw also allows additional vendors to operate in parks without licenses during special event days.
• Stationary Liquor Establishment Vendor – Dogginit closed in 2008 after four years at the Sage Pub.
• Stationary Downtown Vendor – Chips Ahoy-oos opened in 2009, but left after a few months. Lil Habeneres only stayed open for a few weeks in 2013 after opening late in the summer season.
• Moible Street Vendor – Osoyoos Ice Cream Parlour cancelled after three seasons and Rolling Stones Ice Cream opened in 2013 and will probably want to renew.
It’s anticipated the quota system will attract new interest among “serious food vendors” about the Osoyoos marketplace, while ensuring their numbers do not unfairly compete with fixed roof restaurants, said Cunningham.
Staff suggest a maximum of two available sites in each category with the option of revising it in future years based on experience and changing demand.
Council will probably want to give special attention to the downtown quota given that many local restaurant owners gave feedback last year opposing allowing street food vendors in this community, he said.
“Staff is proposing an important change they may wish to consider whereby vendors would only operate out of public parking spaces off Main Street, as they do in Penticton, instead of from downtown private properties, which has had its problems,” said Cunningham.
To promote competition, diversity and keep opportunities open for local businesses, prospective vendors can only apply in one quota category and for one site, he said.
They will have to provide sufficient supporting information to enable staff and council to appraise their proposal against selection criteria laid out in the proposed policy, which is based on a policy adopted in the City of Ottawa, he said.
“This competitive procedure should help promote quality vendors and glean out less serious operators,” he said.
Staff will rate all submissions and recommend shortlisted candidates to council and all vendors will be advised of council’s choices and then be invited to submit a business license application as well as safety authority certification, insurance and fees, he said.
If council agrees, applicants could apply for annual extensions of their license up to five years.
Coun. Sue McKortoff said local restaurant owners she has talked to remain concerned that some street food vendors are offering menu items very similar to what they serve and are being given unfair preference by the town.
Cunningham said he believes street food vendors should offer alternative food items than are currently being served at local restaurants.
Coun. C. J. Rhodes said introducing street food vendors is starting to build a “food culture” in this community, which is beneficial to the street food vendors and local restaurants.
“I think we should let the marketplace determine what they offer,” he said.
All key decisions on who should get the licenses and what kind of food they serve would best be left to staff, rather than council, said Rhodes.
Mayor Stu Wells said street food vendors have had a positive impact with tourists and local residents, but he believes “there is a saturation point’ and he’s glad to see staff recommend limiting how many of these vendors can operate in this community.
“We have to be aware of the fixed roof restaurants and their concerns,” he said.
The recommendation that these street food vendors not be allowed on private property and receive confirmation on where they can set up and during what hours is also a good proposal, he said.
Coun. Mike Plante said he doesn’t believe street food vendors affect the number of tourists and local residents who want a good meal in a restaurant setting.
‘I still think they are two different kinds of clients,” he said.
Most communities across the country are actively promoting bringing street food vendors to their community as they fill a different niche from established restaurants and create a vibrancy and excitement for tourists, said Plante.
A provision that none of these food carts be allowed to set up near local restaurants is also a good one, said Rhodes.